Aquatic Life Criteria - Copper
What is copper?
Copper is an abundant trace element that occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and surface waters. Copper can be found as a pure metal in nature and has a high thermal and electrical conductivity. Copper compounds are generally found as copper (II) salts.
How does copper enter surface water?
Copper is commonly found in aquatic systems as a result of both natural and anthropogenic sources. Natural sources of copper in aquatic systems include geological deposits, volcanic activity, and weathering and erosion of rocks and soils. Anthropogenic sources of copper include mining activities, agriculture, metal and electrical manufacturing, sludge from publicly-owned treatment works (POTWs), pesticide use and more. A major source of copper in the marine environment is antifouling paints, used as coatings for ship hulls, buoys, and underwater surfaces, and as a contaminant from decking, pilings and some marine structures that used chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treated timbers.
How does copper affect aquatic life?
Copper is an essential nutrient at low concentrations, but is toxic to aquatic organisms at higher concentrations. In addition to acute effects such as mortality, chronic exposure to copper can lead to adverse effects on survival, growth, reproduction as well as alterations of brain function, enzyme activity, blood chemistry, and metabolism.
The draft criteria was released on July 29, 2016 for a 60 day public comment period. The draft document incorporates use of the saltwater biotic ligand model (BLM), a bioavailability model that relies on water quality input parameters to estimate copper criteria that is protective of aquatic life in estuarine/marine environments, and an updated toxicity database. Incorporation of the BLM allows users to account for individual water quality variables (temperature, pH, dissolved organic carbon, and salinity) that influence the bioavailability and toxicity of copper in estuarine/marine environments.
- Fact Sheet: 2016 Draft Estuarine/Marine Copper Aquatic Life Ambient Water Quality Criteria (July 2016)
- Federal Register Notice: 2016 Draft Estuarine/Marine Copper Aquatic Life Ambient Water Quality Criteria (July 29, 2016)
- View public comments and other supporting documents on regulations.gov by searching for Docket Number EPA-HQ-OW-2016-0332
- Draft Estuarine/Marine Biotic Ligand Model (BLM) (zip)(1 pg, 2 MB)
Terms and conditions of use
- Permission is granted for individuals to download and use the software on their personal and business computers.
- Users may not alter, modify, merge, adapt, or prepare derivative works from the software.
- Professional judgment is needed to determine adequacy and applicability of the models and methods provided in the draft EPA Estuarine/Marine Copper Biotic Ligand Model.
2007 Freshwater Copper Criteria Update
EPA issued a revised national recommended freshwater aquatic life criterion for copper (Aquatic Life Ambient Freshwater Quality Criteria—Copper 2007 Revision). As a companion to the criteria document, EPA has also released documents to supplement training materials and help states, tribes, permittees, and other interested stakeholders on implementing the nationally recommended criteria.
- Aquatic Life Ambient Freshwater Quality Criteria for Copper - 2007 Revision
- Fact Sheet: Aquatic Life Ambient Freshwater Quality Criteria for Copper - 2007 Revision
- Federal Register Notice: Aquatic Life Ambient Freshwater Quality Criteria for Copper - 2007 Revision(February 22, 2007)
- Supplementary Training Materials about the Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Copper
- Supplementary information relevant to assessing data needed for inputs to the BLM - Spatial Trends in Water Chemistry and the Biotic Ligand Model
- For a copy of the 2007 BLM file please contact Luis Cruz, PhD at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This does not replace EPA's guidance materials on implementing the BLM.
2003 Draft Copper Criteria Update
EPA has published a draft document, 2003 Draft Update of Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Copper (EPA-822-R-03-026), containing updated freshwater and saltwater aquatic life criteria for copper. These criteria revisions are based in part on new data that have become available since EPA's last comprehensive criteria updates for copper. In addition to incorporating new data, the freshwater criteria also incorporate the use of the biotic ligand model (BLM) in the criteria derivation procedures.
- Fact Sheet: 2003 Draft Updated Aquatic Life Copper Criteria
- Federal Register Notice: Draft Aquatic Life Criteria Document for Copper and Request for Scientific Views (December 31, 2003)
- Background materials available at Regulations.gov using Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2003-0079
- 2003 Biotic ligand model (BLM) (zip)(3 pp, 4 MB)
- 2003 Draft Update of Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Copper
Related Technical Documents
Draft Technical Support Document: Recommended Estimates for Missing Water Quality Parameters for BLM
This draft technical support document provides recommendations for default values for water quality parameters that can be used in the Freshwater Copper BLM when data are lacking. The document also describes data analysis approaches used to develop these recommendations. Following closure of the public comment period on April 18, 2016, EPA will consider the comments, revise the document, as appropriate, and then publish a final technical support document that will serve as a source of information for states, tribes, territories, and other stakeholders.
- Draft Technical Support Document: Recommended Estimates for Missing Water Quality Parameters for Biotic Ligand Model
- Extension of Public Comment Period for the Draft Technical Support Document: Recommended Estimates for Missing Water Quality Parameters for Application in EPA's Biotic Ligand Model (March 10, 2016)
- Federal Register Notice: Draft Technical Support Document: Recommended Estimates for Missing Water Quality Parameters for Application in EPA’s Biotic Ligand Model (February 16, 2016)
- View public comments and other supporting documents on regulations.gov by searching for Docket Number EPA-HQ-OW-2015-0469
Copper BLM Workshop Proceedings
In May of 2015, EPA hosted a workshop for federal agencies, Pacific Northwest states, academics, and the private sector to discuss lessons learned from implementing the BLM and approaches to adopting BLM-based criteria. The two-day workshop included overview presentations of the model, discussions among states on experiences and anticipated challenges, and discussions of implementation considerations.
Streamlined Water-Effect Ratio Procedure for Discharges of Copper
This document presents a Streamlined Procedure for determining site-specific values for a Water-Effect Ratio (WER), a criteria adjustment factor accounting for the effect of site-specific water characteristics on pollutant bioavailability and toxicity to aquatic life. This procedure is only recommended for copper and in situations where copper concentrations are elevated primarily by continuous point source effluents.
The document is intended to complement the 1994 Interim Guidance on Determination and Use of Water-Effect Ratios for Metals (EPA-823-B-94-001). The design of the Streamlined Procedure is intended as a more efficient approach for generating the information needed to make a pollution control decision.