Copper and its compounds – information sheet

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  • The Government of Canada conducted a science-based evaluation, called a screening assessment, to address the potential for harm to Canadians and to the environment from copper and its compounds.
  • Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), the risk posed by a substance is determined by considering both its hazardous properties (its potential to cause adverse human health or ecological effects) and the amount of exposure there is to people and the environment. A substance may have hazardous properties; however, the risk to human health or to the environment may be low depending upon the level of exposure.
  • As a result of the draft screening assessment, copper and its compounds are proposed to be harmful to the environment, but not to human health, at current levels of exposure.

About these substances

  • This screening assessment focuses on the copper moiety and therefore considers copper in its elemental form, copper-containing substances, and copper released in dissolved, solid, or particulate form. Also included are 26 substances on the Domestic Substances List and 11 substances on the Revised In Commerce List under the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP).
  • Copper is a naturally occurring substance, found in the earth's crust in its metallic form and in many minerals.
  • According to information gathered by the Government, copper and its compounds may be used in a variety of applications and products available to consumers, such as arts and crafts materials, automotive care, building and construction materials, cosmetics, children's toys, cleaning products, food packaging materials, natural health products, pest control substances, electrical cables and wiring, water piping and paints and coatings.

Human and ecological exposures

  • The screening assessment considers the combined human exposure to the copper moiety from natural or industrial sources, whether it is present in water, sediment, soil, air, food, or products available to consumers.
  • The main source of exposure of Canadians to copper is from food.
  • Canadians may also be exposed to copper-containing substances from environmental sources (for example, drinking water and air) and from inhaling or ingesting the substances during the use of certain products available to consumers such as crayons, metallic toys, lipstick, lip balm, toothpaste, spray paint, disinfectant spray, and health supplements.
  • Copper can enter the environment from natural sources such as sea salt spray, volcanoes, and wildfires.
  • The largest potential release of copper to the Canadian environment is from sources produced by human activities, such as effluents released by metal mining, base metal smelting and refining, and wastewater treatment facilities.

Key health and ecological effects (hazard)

  • The draft screening assessment only considers effects associated with copper and does not address other elements or moieties that may be present in certain copper-containing compounds.
  • To inform the health effects characterization for copper, national and international reports of data were reviewed, including existing reviews by Health Canada, such as the Dietary Reference Intake guidelines for Canadians, and Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.
  • Although copper is an essential element for human health, elevated intake may result in adverse health effects. Liver and respiratory effects were considered to be the important or "critical" effects for the characterization of risk to human health in the assessment.
  • Copper is also an essential element for micro-organisms, plants, and animals, but may be harmful at elevated concentrations.
  • The ecological hazard characterization for copper took into account factors that affect toxicity in plants, invertebrates and fish, such as dissolved organic carbon, pH, hardness, and temperature.

Risk assessment outcomes

  • Based upon a comparison of levels to which Canadians may be exposed to copper and levels associated with critical health effects, it was determined that the risk to human health from copper and its compounds is low.
  • Based upon the information presented in the screening assessment, it was determined that there is risk of harm to the environment from copper and its compounds. These substances may pose a risk to aquatic organisms through releases of copper to water from the metal mining, base metals smelting and refining, and wastewater treatment sectors.
  • Also, copper and its compounds are proposed to meet the persistence criteria, but not the bioaccumulation criteria, as set out in the Persistence and Bioaccumulation Regulations of CEPA 1999.
  • The Government of Canada published the Draft Screening Assessment for Copper and its compounds on May 18, 2019. This publication has a 60-day public comment period ending on July 17, 2019.

Proposed screening assessment conclusions

  • As a result of the assessment, the Government is proposing that copper and its compounds are not harmful to human health at current levels of exposure.
  • However, the Government is proposing that copper and its compounds are entering the environment at levels that are harmful to the environment.

Preventive actions and reducing risk

  • The Government published the Risk Management Scope for Copper and its compounds on May 18, 2019. This publication has a 60-day public comment period ending on July 17, 2019.
  • If the proposed conclusion is confirmed in the final screening assessment, the Government will consider adding copper and its compounds to Schedule 1 of CEPA 1999, also called the List of Toxic Substances
  • The Government will also consider the following actions to address ecological concerns:
    • Metal mining: Applying the updated copper effluent limits (which will come into force in 2021) in the Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations (MDMER) and reviewing information received from regulated mines in response to environmental effects monitoring requirements under these regulations to determine if additional risk management is required.
    • Base metals smelting and refining: Addressing facilities that combine their effluent with metal mining operations through the MDMER. For facilities not regulated by the MDMER, working with industry to gather additional data on copper.
    • Publicly-owned wastewater treatment systems: Considering the effect of the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulationson levels of copper in effluent to determine if additional risk management is required.
  • Information is being sought by the Government to inform risk management decision-making. Details can be found in the risk management scope, including where to send information during the public comment period, ending July 17, 2019.
  • Further information and updates on risk management actions for substances managed under the CMP can be found in the risk management actions table and the two year rolling risk management activities and consultations schedule.

Related information

  • Copper and its compounds may be found in certain products available to consumers. Canadians should follow any safety warnings and directions on product labels and dispose of products responsibly.
  • Some of these substances may be found in arts and crafts materials for children. Health Canada has provided general information on using arts and crafts materials safely.
  • Pots, pans and other cookware can be made from a variety of materials, including copper. Health Canada has provided general information on the safe use of cookware.
  • Although copper and its compounds are present in various foods, there is currently no evidence to indicate that the natural occurrence of copper and its compounds in foods poses a risk to Canadian consumers. Health Canada recommends that Canadians consume a variety of foods from each food group outlined in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.
  • Canadians are reminded to only take multi-vitamins/mineral supplements that have a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the label. Ingredient information can be found on the product label.
  • Copper has been assessed by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water, and a guideline technical document has been published by Health Canada. The guideline technical document reviews and assesses all identified health risks associated with copper in drinking water.
  • Canadians who may be exposed to these substances in the workplace should consult with their employer and an occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws, and requirements under OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

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