Testing for Copper in Water

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Copper pipes
Copper pipes (Image: gas tank image by fafoutis from Fotolia.com)

Food poisoning! Stomach bug! Intestinal flu! All of them sound nasty and any of these labels could simply be the result of too much copper in drinking water. Excessive copper is one of the most problematic mineral contaminants of potable water and can make you sick immediately. Older copper pipes that have worn down, releasing copper into the water, are usually the main culprit. There are methods that a homeowner can implement to test for copper content in water.

Inspect your faucets and sinks. Bend down and look up at the spout, too. Any bluish or greenish stains may be copper residue. If the copper is staining your plumbing fixtures, and you are drinking the water from those faucets, surely the copper is infiltrating your body. We do need a small amount of copper in our bodies, but excessive amounts are toxic.

Inspect your pipes for corrosion. You can tell if the pipe is corroded by seeing if it exhibits irregularity in smoothness along its length and at the joints and if it has darkened (like an old copper penny). This is a rare condition, but it does happen. Corroded copper pipes dissolve copper into the water supply.

Inspect your pipes for pinholes. Sometimes copper pipes corrode internally and pinhole leaks form. Pipe failure may not be easily visible, were it not for the perforations. Pay special attention to the cold water horizontal piping, because this is where the breakdown occurs more frequently. One pinhole may be the predecessor to an onslaught of leaks. If you spot one leak, have a professional plumber inspect your piping system to evaluate its condition.

Test the water with a test kit. Copper test strips come with commercially manufactured water testing kits, which can be purchased online or at a home improvement store. Dip a test strip halfway into a sample of water and see if it changes color. The test strip instructions will tell you how much the color can vary safely.

Taste and smell the water. If it smells or tastes “metallic” it may have an excessive amount of copper in it. If your plumbing is more than 5 years old and you are just beginning to notice the metallic taste or smell, look for the other visual symptoms described above. If your piping is new, test the water with test strips. There is a possibility that the excessive copper in your water is coming from your water supply. Contact officials to have them test and verify.

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