Low levels of copper in chlorine-free distribution water caused injury of coliform populations. Monitoring of 44 drinking water samples indicated that 64% of the coliform population was injured. Physical and chemical parameters were measured, including three heavy metals (Cu, Cd, and Pb). Copper concentrations were important, ranging from 0.007 to 0.54 mg/liter. Statistical analyses of these factors were used to develop a model to predict coliform injury. The model predicted almost 90% injury with a copper concentration near the mean observed value (0.158 mg/liter) in distribution waters. Laboratory studies with copper concentrations of 0.025 and 0.050 mg/liter in an inorganic carbon buffer under controlled conditions of temperature and pH caused over 90% injury within 6 and 2 days, respectively. Studies of the metabolism of injured Escherichia coli cells indicated that the respiratory chain is at least one site of damage in injured cells.