Copper pipes  © axe olga / fotolia.comCopper pipes © axe olga / fotolia.com

Copper, as a red-brown metal, is in high demand with a usage of more than 20 million tons per year. Copper and copper oxide(s) are both standard materials for the production of electrical cables and coins. They are also used as active ingredients in biocides (e.g. used in organic farming, in anti-fouling coating processes and for wood impregnation). In consumer products such as pillowcases and socks, copper oxide is used for its anti-microbial properties. Besides copper is also an essential trace element needed for the proper functioning of many enzymes in biological systems and the adult need is between 1 and 1.5 mg copper per day.

 

How can I come in contact with this material?

 

The risk of dermal uptake and skin sensitivity to copper (e.g. when handling of coins) is considered extremely low. However, copper oxide fumes can be breathed in and fume inhalation during the smelting of copper oxide powder can lead to metal fume fever, a disease with flu-like symptoms. Copper oxide can be found as a safe source of copper in over-the-counter vitamin supplements, but oral uptake of too high amounts of such supplements should be avoided.

 

Is there any risk from this material to humans and the environment?

Adverse effects in humans such as nausea and vomiting after the swallowing of copper oxide powder or lung damage after the breathing-in of copper oxide fumes have been reported. In most cases these effects are the result of exposure to very high doses of this metal and also to a higher bioavailability of copper with copper ions being released from copper oxide. However, copper is an essential trace element for the normal function of many tissues, including the nervous system, immune system, heart, skin as well as for the formation of capillaries. Copper is extremely well tolerated and processed by humans. This is not the case for all animals however and some wildlife species show greater sensitivity to copper toxicity.

 

Conclusion

Humans can have regular contact with copper and copper oxide through its many applications. It is important to keep in mind that copper oxide is a skin irritant and that its oral use (as an essential micro-element) should be limited. In addition, the handling of copper and copper oxide powder (also, as a nano-pesticide) should be done with great care.

 

 

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