Treating Algae Blooms with Copper Sulfate

Algae is one of the most common, and annoying, problems faced by water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants. It’s a problem that requires swift action to ensure that it does not affect production or release toxins that could change the properties of the water. To combat this problem, many believe that applying a copper sulfate solution to the infected water will reduce and cure algae blooms. While this method has been widely used and promulgated, it is an ineffective and dangerous solution to a safely treatable problem. Here are ten reasons not to use copper sulfate as a solution to your algae bloom infestation.

10 Reasons

  1. It doesn’t treat the causes of algae in your pond. When it is applied to an infected water location it can treat only the visible symptoms of algae. Instead of targeting the nutrients that cause the algae to grow in the first place, it only targets algae itself. For this reason, copper sulfate becomes ineffective—it kills the algae, which then sinks to the bottom of the pond where it decays and releases additional toxins which can create more blooms, essentially resulting in a larger problem than you started with.
  2. It is toxic to humans. When used to combat algae blooms in water, copper sulfate can create a hazard to humans. Since copper sulfate is easily absorbed through the skin, those that dispense it must be extremely cautious to avoid even minimal skin contact with it. If contact occurs, it can cause itching and permanent yellow discoloration of the skin. Additionally, if ingested (through inhalation of the powder or through drinking it) copper sulfate can cause immediate vomiting, and if retained in the stomach: unconsciousness, burning pain, nausea, diarrhea, headache, shock, and unconsciousness. These risks are documented by the EPA who have classified copper sulfate as a class 1-highly toxic chemical, which requires a poison warning displayed on all labels. Ultimately, copper sulfate is an unnecessary risk to those who dispense it. The potential damage to human health far outweighs the benefits of curing an algae bloom.
  3. It is more likely to contribute to rebound blooms. It quickly sinks once applied to water, which causes it to accumulate as a heavy metal precipitate. This accumulation of copper sulfate and the decaying algae leads to the release of toxins and can result in the accumulated mass to resurface or “rebound” to levels similar, or higher, than the original bloom. It also accelerates the recycling of phosphorus which can promote algae blooms as well. Thus, using copper sulfate will create more work in the end.
  4. It does not biodegrade. As stated above, copper sulfate accumulates as a heavy metal precipitate once it is applied to water. Because of this, it does not biodegrade. A buildup of copper sulfate can lead to a sterile water bottom, which can decrease and kill beneficial bacteria. It is not natural and cannot be removed without the assistance of other chemicals or treatments.
  5. It is detrimental to plant and aquatic life. The accumulation of copper sulfate after application can create a sterile water bottom where important nutrients and bacteria that fish and other aquatic life need are killed off. Copper sulfate can weaken the aquatic food chain by killing off weaker fish who need the nutrients to survive, this leads to overpopulation of some species for short periods of time (until they die off because they are without a food source). It also creates over-oxygenated water which can also cause plants to die. Lastly, animals that drink from this water may be at increased risk of injury or death.
  6. Its buildup is expensive to dispose of. Once a buildup of copper sulfate occurs, it may be considered hazardous waste. When disposal is required, this hazardous waste status can make it more expense to get rid of, due to requiring professional cleanup.
  7. It can make water runoff hazardous. Copper sulfate is known to build up once used, and can cause runoff water to become potentially hazardous to those who encounter it. Water that has been contaminated with copper sulfate can be harmful to crops, animals, and people. For this reason, copper sulfate is an unnecessary danger.
  8. City and state officials are concerned about the safety of copper sulfate use. Concerns about the effects of copper sulfate on human and animal health have considerably changed the views of state legislatures and cities about its use. Ultimately, states want a solution that will provide them with more positives than negatives, and it will not do that.
  9. It is highly corrosive. Another issue with copper sulfate is that it is highly corrosive to steel, iron, and galvanized pipes. It cannot be stored in metal containers and must only come in contact with stainless steel, Monel, or plastic. Copper sulfate’s corrosive nature makes it incompatible with cost-effective methods for storage and thus becomes more of a nuisance to use than a benefit.
  10. There are better solutions. There’s always a silver lining. At least that’s what we believe at ATS. We understand your need to remove algae from water—be it a lake, pond, municipal water, or treatment plant. That’s why we offer solutions to this pesky algae problem without using a single drop of copper sulfate. Our solutions do not cause major health concerns or create adverse environmental impact. Contact us to learn more about how ATS can help you solve your algae problem safely.
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