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Copper

copper and compounds of copper

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
10.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
20.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Water
20.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Waste Water
50.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Land
Disclaimer
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Pure copper is a reddish-brown coloured metal with a high melting point (1083 degrees celsius). It is malleable (bend-able), conducts heat and electricity well and is resistant to corrosion. It occurs naturally, as well as being released as a result of man's activities.
What is it used for?
Copper is used widely, for a variety of purposes: in electronic and electrical applications, in heat exchangers, in motors, for plumbing fittings, in building construction and roofing, in chemical and marine equipment, for cooking utensils, in wood preservatives, as an anti-fouling agents in paints and as a trace nutrient in livestock feeds.
Where does it come from?
The main man-made releases of copper are from coal-fired power stations, metal production, waste incinerators, sewage treatment processes and from the application of agricultural chemicals. Smaller amounts are also released naturally from the earth's crust. It is also found in trace amounts in cigarette smoke.
How might it affect the environment?
Excess copper in soils is toxic to some micro-organisms, disrupting nutrient-cycling and inhibiting the mineralisation of essential nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Some species accumulate copper. Toxic effects on fish and other aquatic organisms have also been observed. No significant effects on the global environment are expected.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Most humans are exposed to low levels of copper in food and drinking water. This is likely to be beneficial as copper is an essential nutrient. Exposure to slightly higher environmental levels of copper is unlikely to have adverse effects on health. High level exposure (following an accident or in an occupational setting) might however cause chest pains, vomiting and irritation of the eyes and nose.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
In the UK (including Scotland) releases of copper are controlled through the Pollution Prevention and Control regulations. European Directives controlling releases of copper include those concerned with pollution of the aquatic environment by dangerous substances (76/464); treatment of hazardous wastes; and combating air pollution from industrial sources (84/360/EEC). Internationally, releases of copper are controlled through the OSPAR convention for the protection of the north-east Atlantic; the Basel convention on transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous wastes; and it is listed as candidate substance for the Helsinki convention which protects the marine environment of the Baltic sea.