Copper levels too high, city manager says

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

The City of Madison has discovered elevated copper levels in the wastewater supply. The Madison Mayor and City Council approved a $43,000 contract with Carter & Sloope to devise a plan of action to reduce copper levels in the wastewater. 

“The levels of copper in our wastewater are too high,” said City Manager David Nunn. “This is not our drinking water, but our wastewater.”  

According to Kevin Simpson, lead operator and the Indian Creek Water Reclamation Facility, elevated copper levels in the wastewater does not pose a risk to human health, but does pose danger to aquatic life. 

“The limits for copper levels in wastewater are based on how much fish and invertebrates can handle,” explained Simpson. “The copper limits for drinking water are much more stringent.”

According to Simpson, the copper limit set by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) is 7.6 micrograms per liter. 

“We have to run a check every five years for 129 different pollutants,” said Simpson. 

In May the copper level came in at 13 micrograms. In June,  the copper level came in at 22 micrograms and in July, 15 micrograms. 

“I believe we will be able to achieve compliance on these new limits from the EPD,” said Simpson. 

Carter and Sloope will prepare design documents and technical specifications to meet the Metals Compliance Schedule for the City’s current National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). 

According to the EPD, “Copper is a reddish metal that occurs naturally in rock, soil, water, sediment, and, at low levels, air. Copper also occurs naturally in all plants and animals. It is an essential element for all known living organisms including humans and other animals at low levels of intake. At much higher levels, toxic effects can occur. Metallic copper can be easily molded or shaped. The reddish color of this element is most commonly seen in the U.S. penny, electrical wiring, and some water pipes. It is also found in many mixtures of metals, called alloys, such as brass and bronze. Copper is extensively mined and processed in the United States and is primarily used as the metal or alloy in the manufacture of wire, sheet metal, pipe, and other metal products. Copper compounds are most commonly used in agriculture to treat plant diseases, like mildew, or for water treatment and as preservatives for wood, leather, and fabrics.”

According to Nunn, the elevated copper levels in the wastewater could be from numerous sources. 

“It’s probably a combination,” said Nunn, pointing copper pipes in older city homes and copper outputs from local industries. 

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