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Copper Fume (as Cu)

General Description

Synonyms: CuO; Black copper oxide fume; Copper monoxide fume; Copper(II) oxide fume; Cupric oxide fume

OSHA IMIS code: 0731

CAS number: 7440-50-8 (copper); 1317-38-0 (copper oxide)

Monitoring Methods used by OSHA

Primary Laboratory Sampling/Analytical Method:
  • mixed cellulose ester filter (MCEF) 0.8 microns 
  • maximum volume: 960 L 
  • minimum volume: 480 L
  • maximum flow rate: 2.0 L/min 
  • current analytical method: atomic absorption spectroscopy; AAS 
  • method reference: OSHA ID-121 (fully validated)
  • alternate analytical method: inductively coupled argon plasma; ICP-AES/MS, AAS 
  • method reference: OSHA ID-125GOSHA ID-206OSHA ID-105OSHA 1006 (fully validated)
  • note: If the filter is not overloaded, samples may be collected up to an 8-hour period. Analytical method does not distinguish between dust and fume.

Exposure Limits and Health Effects (Updated September 6, 2012)

Standard Set By Exposure Limit Health Effect Codes -- Health Effects and Target Organs

OSHA PEL - General Industry
See 29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1

0.1 mg/m3 TWA HE4 -- metal fume fever
HE15 -- upper respiratory tract irritation, discoloration of the skin and hair, metallic or sweet taste
OSHA PEL - Construction Industry
See 29 CFR 1926.55 Appendix A
0.1 mg/m3 TWA HE4 -- metal fume fever
HE15 -- upper respiratory tract irritation, discoloration of the skin and hair, metallic or sweet taste
OSHA PEL - Shipyard Employment
See 29 CFR 1915.1000 Table Z-Shipyards
0.1 mg/m3 TWA HE4 -- metal fume fever
HE15 -- upper respiratory tract irritation, discoloration of the skin and hair, metallic or sweet taste
NIOSH REL

0.1 mg/m3 TWA

HE4 -- Metal fume fever
HE15 -- upper respiratory tract irritation, metallic or sweet taste, discoloration of skin and hair
ACGIH TLV® (1990) 0.2 mg/m3 TWA HE4 -- metal fume fever, gastrointestinal distress
HE15 -- ocular, dermal, mucous membrane, and respiratory tract irritation; discoloration of skin and hair; metallic or sweet taste
CAL/OSHA PELs 0.1 mg/m3 TWA HE4 -- metal fume fever, gastrointestinal distress
HE15 -- ocular, dermal, mucous membrane, and respiratory tract irritation; discoloration of skin and hair; metallic or sweet taste

Metal fume fever is characterized by fever, muscle aches, nausea, chills, dry throat, cough, and weakness.

Carcinogenic classification:

EPA Inhalation Reference Concentration (RfC): Not established

ATSDR Inhalation Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs): Not established

NIOSH IDLH concentration: 100 mg Cu/m3

Notes on other potential health effects and hazards:

  1. People with metal fume fever typically develop leukocytosis, with leukocyte counts between 12,000 and 16,000/mL. Recovery is quick and there are no sequelae (NIOSH 1978).
  2. Symptoms from metal fume fever can typically be resolved quickly if the person is removed from exposure to copper fumes (Sullivan and Krieger 1992).
  3. Automobile welders exposed to copper fumes (measured in their urine) had significantly elevated levels of glutathione, which is associated with oxidative stress (Luo et al. 2009).
  4. One case study described a worker in a brass foundry who did not wear respiratory protection while exposed to brass fumes (75% copper and 2-5% lead). The cervical margins of the worker’s teeth were stained a green color (Donoghue and Ferguson 1996).
  5. In a study that involved a systematic literature review to determine the adverse effects associated with copper fume inhalation, the researcher concluded that insufficient evidence exists to establish a link between copper fume inhalation and metal fume fever, and that if copper fumes cause this illness, the occurrence is very rare (Borak et al. 2000).
  6. Copper is the metal fume most likely to violate the PEL when sampling metal inert gas welding (MIG or wire welding.)

Partial reference list:

  • ACGIH: Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEIs) - Copper. 2016.
  • Borak J, Cohen H, Hethmon TA: Copper exposure and metal fume fever - Lack of evidence for a causal relationship. AIHAJ. 61:832-6, 2000.
  • Donoghue, A. and Ferguson, M.: Superficial copper staining of the teeth in a brass foundry worker. Occup Med (Lond). 46(3):233-234, 1996.
  • Luo, J., Hsu, K., and Shen, W.: Inflammatory responses and oxidative stress from metal fume exposure in automobile welders. J Occup Environ Med. 51(1):95-103, 2009.
  • NIOSH: Occupational Health Guideline - Copper Fume. 1978.
  • NIOSH/CEC/IPCS: International Chemical Safety CardsCopper. September 1993.
  • Sullivan, J.B. Jr., G.R. Krieger (eds.): Hazardous Materials Toxicology - Clinical Principles of Environmental Health. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, p. 862, 1992.

Chemical Sampling Information

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