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Copper’s Benefits Supported by Scientific Research – Part I

By Joe Gorsuch, Copper Development Association (CDA) Manager, Health Environment and Sustainable Development

Editor’s Note:   The Copper Development Association consistently studies and evaluates copper’s many uses for the benefit of all humanity and the environment around us.  The CDA makes significant contributions to many different fields of study that deeply impact and improve human life, from health and medicine to transportation, from energy to emissions, and from groundwater to space exploration.  The list is lengthy and all-encompassing because copper is part of our daily lives.  

CDA sponsored copper studies are based on scientific discoveries and data advanced by experts after several years of research.  The following blog highlights a few recent studies, initiated by the CDA, that have helped to positively impact the quality of our water, our environment and thus our lives.

Water Quality Standards & Copper 

An article found in an environmental engineering website describes a water quality case study that took place in a small town in Iowa.  Without getting into all the specifics of the

Fox Engineering case study, I noticed the article mentions the recommended use of “an Environmental Protection Agency-endorsed method for protecting aquatic life called the Biotic Ligand Model (or BLM).”  The BLM is a water chemistry model developed by the Copper Development Association (CDA) and the International Copper Association (ICA).  It is now used by scientists, environmental engineers, and water quality regulators throughout the USA and elsewhere in the world.  The BLM allows scientists, engineers, and water quality regulators to evaluate how dissolved copper behaves in the aquatic environment (depending on a number of measured quality parameters).  It was developed in the early 2000’s through collaboration with international scientific experts and government regulators and has been shared through the CDA and its scientific research teams with water quality regulators in all 50 states, the American territories and with several tribes.

The BLM helps water quality experts to better evaluate, explain and predict effects of water chemistry and biological availability of metals in natural aquatic systems thus providing more accurate measure of the effects of metals on aquatic life.  The toxicity of copper to aquatic organisms is a function of water chemistry.  Thus the state and local water quality regulators are using the best science available to set regulations.  The benefit of using the BLM has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more than a decade.  It is an improvement from the outdated hardness-normalized criteria that were used previously because real-world water chemistry is being used.  Learn more about the history, development and use of the BLM.  Also, read about “Adopting BLM-based Copper Water Quality Criteria:  Nationwide Efforts & Successes.”

Copper Roof Runoff Studies  

As described in previous Coppertalk blogs, research continues with Towson University and copper roof runoff testing – (and a recent blog about the Towson study is found here.)  In 2012, the CDA and ICA began work with Towson University research scientists collecting data for a study that examines the amount of copper in runoff from copper roofs as well as ways to reduce copper in this same runoff.  The CDA is committed to protecting the environment with careful and consistent testing, while sharing results with key groups and individuals in the regulatory, municipal, roofing industry, and scientific communities.  The Towson results have been shared with researchers and institutions throughout North America. These studies served to highlight the need to consider biological availability of copper in runoff and reinforced the utility of bioavailability models like the BLM.   More information about copper’s interaction in the natural environment can be found here.

Research work continues with aquatic and environmental scientific experts who are countering the perception that copper poses a major threat to fish by impairing olfactory responses (“olfactory” = fish sense of smell).  Publications by scientific experts and the CDA have focused primarily on two areas of importance:  1) Water chemistry matters in determining the toxicity of copper and its impairment of olfaction in fish and 2) the discovery that olfaction is not impaired in salmonid fishes (e.g., salmon and trout) when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s BLM-based water quality criteria are not exceeded.  This advocacy effort is bearing fruit as regulators become more aware of the results from CDA funded scientific research.

For further information about any or all of these studies, please contact me joseph.gorsuch@copperalliance.us.

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