Diseases Caused by Copper or Its Compounds

1. Introduction and Definitions

Copper is a reddish-brown metal widely used in various industries due to its excellent electrical and thermal conductivity. It is commonly found in electrical wiring, plumbing, roofing materials, and industrial machinery. While copper is essential for human health in trace amounts, excessive exposure to copper or its compounds can lead to significant health issues. This article provides comprehensive information on diseases caused by copper and its compounds, targeting occupational health nurses and doctors.

2. Agent Causes the Disease

Exposure to copper occurs primarily through inhalation of dust or fumes, ingestion, or dermal contact. In industrial settings, exposure to copper and its compounds, such as copper sulfate and copper oxide, can lead to various health problems. These compounds are used in processes such as electroplating, mining, and the production of pesticides and fungicides.

3. Workers at Risk of This Disease

Several occupations and tasks put workers at higher risk of exposure to copper and its compounds, including:

  • Metal Workers: Involved in the production, processing, and refining of copper and its alloys.
  • Plumbers and Electricians: Handling copper pipes, wiring, and other materials.
  • Agricultural Workers: Using copper-based pesticides and fungicides.
  • Chemical Manufacturing Workers: Handling copper compounds in various chemical processes.
  • Mining and Refining Workers: Extracting and processing copper-containing ores.
  • Electronics Industry Workers: Using copper in the production of electronic components.

4. Symptoms

Symptoms of diseases caused by copper exposure can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure:

  • Acute Exposure: Symptoms include respiratory irritation (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath), gastrointestinal distress (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), and eye irritation. Severe acute exposure can lead to metal fume fever, characterized by flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue.
  • Chronic Exposure: Long-term exposure can cause liver and kidney damage, neurological symptoms (headaches, dizziness, cognitive impairment), and skin conditions (dermatitis, eczema). Chronic inhalation can lead to chronic bronchitis and reduced lung function.

5. Diagnosis

Diagnosing diseases caused by copper involves a combination of clinical evaluation, occupational exposure assessment, and specific tests:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Detailed assessment of the patient's work history and symptoms.
  • Pulmonary Function Tests: To assess lung function and detect any obstructive or restrictive patterns.
  • Blood and Urine Tests: Measuring copper levels to assess exposure and monitor liver and kidney function.
  • Liver and Kidney Function Tests: Monitoring for signs of organ damage.
  • Neurological Evaluation: Including tests for cognitive and motor function if neurological symptoms are present.
  • Skin Examination: For signs of irritation, dermatitis, or chronic eczema.

6. Treatment

Treatment for diseases caused by copper focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further exposure:

  • Remove from Exposure: Immediate removal from the source of copper exposure is crucial.
  • Chelation Therapy: Administering chelating agents, such as penicillamine or dimercaprol, to bind copper and enhance its excretion in cases of severe poisoning.
  • Symptomatic Treatment: Providing medications to manage respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms. Topical treatments for skin irritation.
  • Supportive Care: Including hydration, nutritional support, and monitoring of liver and kidney function.
  • Long-term Monitoring: Regular follow-up to monitor lung function, liver and kidney health, and overall health status.

7. Prevention

Preventing diseases caused by copper involves implementing strict control measures in the workplace:

  • Engineering Controls: Using local exhaust ventilation, enclosed processes, and proper maintenance of equipment to reduce airborne exposure to copper dust and fumes.
  • Work Practices: Implementing safe work practices such as proper handling and disposal of copper-containing materials, and avoiding eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where copper is used.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Providing and ensuring the use of appropriate respirators, protective clothing, gloves, and eye protection.
  • Health Surveillance: Regular health screenings, including pulmonary function tests, liver and kidney function tests, and monitoring of copper levels in blood and urine for workers exposed to copper.
  • Education and Training: Informing workers about the hazards of copper and safe work practices to minimize exposure.

  • Copper Dust and Mists

    • OSHA PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit):
      • Time-Weighted Average (TWA): 1 mg/m³.
    • NIOSH REL (Recommended Exposure Limit):
      • TWA: 1 mg/m³.
  • Copper Fume:

    • OSHA PEL:
      • Time-Weighted Average (TWA): 0.1 mg/m³.
    • NIOSH REL:
      • TWA: 0.1 mg/m³.