Copper is a very common substance that occurs naturally in the environment and spreads through the environment through natural phenomena. Humans widely use copper. For instance it is applied in the industries and in agriculture. The production of copper has lifted over the last decades. Due to this, copper quantities in the environment have increased.
The world's copper production is still rising. This basically means that more and more copper ends up in the environment. Rivers are depositing sludge on their banks that is contaminated with copper, due to the disposal of copper-containing wastewater. Copper enters the air, mainly through release during the combustion of fossil fuels. Copper in air will remain there for an eminent period of time, before it settles when it starts to rain. It will then end up mainly in soils. As a result soils may also contain large quantities of copper after copper from the air has settled.
Copper can be released into the environment by both natural sources and human activities. Examples of natural sources are wind-blown dust, decaying vegetation, forest fires and sea spray. A few examples of human activities that contribute to copper release have already been named. Other examples are mining, metal production, wood production and phosphate fertilizer production.
Because copper is released both naturally and through human activity it is very widespread in the environment. Copper is often found near mines, industrial settings, landfills and waste disposals.
Most copper compounds will settle and be bound to either water sediment or soil particles. Soluble copper compounds form the largest threat to human health. Usually water-soluble copper compounds occur in the environment after release through application in agriculture.
World production of copper amounts to 12 million tons a year and exploitable reserves are around 300 million tons, which are expected to last for only another 25 years. About 2 million tons a year are reclaimed by recycling. Today copper is mined as major deposits in Chile, Indonesia, USA, Australia and Canada, which together account for around 80% of the world's copper. The main ore is a yellow copper-iron sulfide called chalcopyrite (CuFeS2).