What is Copper?

Copper (chemical formula: Cu), is an odourless, reddish metallic solid. It is insoluble in water and highly conductive with electricity. Electrolytic copper is a very pure version, containing 99.9% copper. Apart from gold, copper is the only natural metal with a distinct colour.

What is Copper used for?

Copper is used mostly in the building and construction field, with copper wiring and piping favoured for its easy malleability. Another benefit of copper being used for plumbing is the fact that it does not easily corrode, making it highly rust resistant with water.  

Another significant use of copper is as an essential component used in electronics. Due to its ability to conduct electricity, copper is used heavily in wiring for radiators, computers, TVs, car radiators, heating/cooling systems 

Copper pipes can be easily bent into shape while also resistant to corrosion, making them ideal for plumbing applications
Copper pipes can be easily bent into shape while also resistant to corrosion, making them ideal for plumbing applications

Copper Hazards

The routes of exposure for copper include inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of fine copper dusts can cause nasal ulcerations, leading to nosebleeds. Other symptoms can include throat irritation, coughing, tiredness, headache, nausea, chills/fever, sweating, diarrhoea and sudden thirst. There is also evidence that copper can cause respiratory irritation in some people and those with already compromised respiratory function (conditions such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis), may suffer further disability upon inhalation. Additionally, people with prior damage to their kidneys, circulatory or nervous systems should be screened prior to handling to reduce the risk of further damage. 

If vomiting does not occur immediately after ingestion, copper poisoning may result. Some symptoms of this can include headache, cold sweats, capillary damage, weak pulse and kidney/liver damage. 

Skin contact with copper is not thought to produce adverse health effects or skin irritation, however entry into the bloodstream through open cuts or wounds may lead to other harmful effects or injury. Copper that enters the skin may remain even after the wound has healed, causing pain and pressure at the site. 

Direct eye contact with copper may cause irritation and damage. Metal dusts can cause scratching on the cornea, with more serious penetration of the eyeball causing severe damage, such as infection or permanent vision loss. A scratched cornea will usually be painful and cause tearing, redness, swelling and blurred vision in some cases. 

Copper Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Lay the patient down and ensure they are kept warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device. Seek medical attention. 

If swallowed, immediately give the patient a glass of water. First aid is generally not required, but if in doubt, contact a Poisons Information Center or doctor. 

If skin exposure to copper occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and then flush the skin and hair with plenty of water and soap (if available). Seek medical attention in the event of irritation.

In the event of eye exposure, flush the eyes out immediately with water. A skilled professional should be the only one to attempt removing particles embedded in the eye as well as contact lenses. Seek medical attention immediately. 

Copper Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and proper ventilation is required to avoid metal dusts from contaminating the air supply.

The PPE recommended when handling copper includes safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, gloves (PVC and leather), half face respirator,  full body protective suit and safety boots.

Incorrect handling of copper can lead to lasting and hazardous consequences. Ensure you are fully aware of the dangers of any substance before you begin handling it. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at for more information about our chemicals management solutions.