Ecotoxicity of copper to aquatic biota: a review

Environ Res. 1987 Jun;43(1):274-82. doi: 10.1016/s0013-9351(87)80078-6.


The toxic effects of copper on numerous aquatic flora and fauna has been studied intensely over the past 10 years. In general, there is a consensus that free cupric ions are more toxic if compared with other chemical forms such as organically complexed copper. Biological indicators exhibit a tremendously wide range of sensitivity to copper with toxic effects noted at pCu as low as 10 for some algae, while aquatic macrophytes appear to have a much higher tolerance for copper (pCu less than 5.0). The sensitivity of various groups of organisms seems discrepant and anomalous with accepted standards for drinking water and industrial discharges, and recommended rates of copper sulfate application to water bodies. The toxicity of copper, however, is mitigated by the presence of naturally occurring organic compounds in waters through complexation. The regulatory function of dissolved humic matter will continue to be a vital one for as long as copper is discharged into aquatic environments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cations, Divalent / toxicity
  • Copper / standards
  • Copper / toxicity*
  • Ecology
  • Water Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*
  • Water Supply / standards


  • Cations, Divalent
  • Water Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Copper