Things to Know about Copper (Cu)
By Clifford Woods
History and Origin: The name of the element comes from the Latin word 'cuprum'. It is a metal that was mined on Cyprus in ancient times (it was originally named 'cyprium', but was later abbreviated to 'cuprum'). There are no records that show who discovered this element, but it has been essential to humanity since pre-historic times. Civilizations around the world like the ancient Egyptians and Romans have utilized this metal to further improve their quality of living through the production of tools and weapons.
One of the major periods of history is named after an alloy of this metal: "the bronze age."
Occurrence and Production: This element is produced in massive stars and can be found on earth at a 50 ppm (parts per million) concentration. The native form of this element is a polycrystal, but it may also occur in minerals like chalcocite and chalcopyrite.
Copper (Cu) is extracted from open pit mines like those ones found in Utah, Chile, and New Mexico, but it can also be obtained through an on-site leach process.
Toxicity: Coperriedus is the condition of having too much of this element in the body. It often happens due to excessive Cu in the system brought about by drinking water from metallic sources as uncoated pipes made of this metal. Eating acidic foods that were cooked using uncoated pans made of this metal could also result in toxicity.
Cu exists in two forms in the bloodstream: ceruloplasmin-bound which comprises 85 to 95% of Cu in the body and 'free' Cu which is loosely bound to the albumin (the main protein of human blood plasma). Among these two, it is the free form that causes toxicity; this is because it creates reactive oxygen species like hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radical, and superoxide- these cause damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids.
Poisoning Symptoms and Limits: The telltale signs of acute poisoning involving this metal are: low blood pressure or hypotension, hematemesis or blood vomiting, gastrointestinal distress, jaundice, melena (production of black sticky feces), and comatose. Long term exposure to this element can cause massive damage to the kidneys and liver.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a maximum contaminant level of 1.3 milligrams per liter in drinking water.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on the other hand, have set a Cu fume limit of 0.1 mg/m3, and a Cu dust limit of 1 mg/m3.
Stress Increases Cu Levels: When facing physical, mental, or emotional stress, the body's Sympathetic Nervous System is activated. This results in the production of 'emergency' energy in the form of cortisol, adrenaline, and aldosterone.
Aldosterone increases the elimination rate of sedating minerals like magnesium and zinc, and increases the retention of Na and Cu as these substances provide quick energy. As your stress levels increase, so will your body's retention of this element. At a certain level, it will lead to toxicity.
Adrenal glands are also stimulated by stress reactions and toxicity. This will trigger a drop in your blood sugar levels and cause 'sugar cravings' that can be satisfied with energy bars and candy. Too much of this sugar intake will again cause adrenal stimulation and consequently trigger fast insulin production. This up and down cycle will eventually lead to complications like diabetes and hypoglycemia.
Toxicity Treatments: In case of poisoning, make sure the person is not given vinegar. This will hasten the circulation of Cu salts in the system. Dimercaprol (chelating agent for heavy metals) and Penicillamine are the drugs of choice and are most often administered in situations like this.
How to Prevent Poisoning:
- Only buy tubing and pipes made of this metal that is approved for drinking water faucets. Beware of improperly coated products and products that are have not gone through proper testing. These may result in water contamination.
- Avoid cooking with acidic ingredients (like vinegar) on pots made of this metal. This will cause a chemical reaction that may release compounds into your food. The use of ceramics or clay pots is a better choice.
- Have enough rest. Sleep at least 8 hours a day, eat a balanced diet, and create a peaceful working environment at home, to avoid excessive stress which may trigger toxicity.
- Take balanced zinc and magnesium supplements. These minerals have a soothing effect on the body and will help eliminate stress, thereby reducing retention levels of this metal.
Uses and Applications: The table below shows the most common applications of this element from lowest to highest:
Because of its' high conductivity, this metal is primarily used in electrical wirings. Copper (Cu) also possess a biostatic property which inhibits the growth of bacteria, this is mainly why it is used for plumbing as water tube fittings, and to coat the linings of ships to protect it from barnacles.
- Production of alloys 5%
- Machinery (industrial) 15%
- Plumbing and roofing 20%
- Electrical wiring 60%
Pans, pots, and utensils made of this element are also commonly sold in the market; these make great cooking tools because this metal conducts heat quite well. It also has antimicrobial properties, as there are 335 known alloys that were proven to kill 99.9% of bacteria in the span of just two hours (with regular cleaning).
Compounds of this element are also used as wood preservatives to treat 'dry rot' and restore damaged wood portions. In jewelry making, it is an important tool in the production of gold and silver alloys.
Biological Role: The proteins in this element play a fundamental role in oxygen transportation and processing, homocyanin (is colorless when deoxygenated and dark blue when oxygenated) for example, carries oxygen in most arthropods and mollusks. This element is also a part of the proteins associated with oxygen processing.
Together with iron, this element plays a big part in the reduction of oxygen in the cytochrome c oxidase which is necessary for aerobic respiration. It is also an important trace element in animals and plants; humans have 1.4 to 2.1 milligrams of Cu per kilogram of body mass.
Technical Details: Copper (Cu) is an element with an atomic number of 29 and is represented by the symbol 'Cu.' It has a melting point of 1356.15 Kelvin. This element is classified as a transition metal and has a cubic crystal structure. It has 29 protons, 35 neutrons, and 29 electrons. It is reddish-orange in color and has a density of 8.96 grams per cubic centimeter.
[The information contained in this article is believed to be reliable. I have taken every precaution to verify its accuracy; I am not a medical professional and make no warranties, representations or guarantees of any kind as to its accuracy. Medical knowledge is in a constant state of change, and what I have written here may be out of date by the time you read it. The information that I have provided here is for informational purposes only and not for use in diagnosing any condition that you may or may not have. Always consult with you doctor before treating yourself.]