Old copper mine(s) = municipal water supply?

Past-E-Mail: Various Topics: Politics and Religion, Ketchup or Gravy: Old copper mine(s) = municipal water supply?
FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Tuesday, September 2, 2008 - 12:23 am:

I've been reading about the imminent plans to replace the water main that runs underneath the Portage Canal(!) from Painesdale to serve Hancock's municipal water system. Of course I've long been aware of the fact that indeed the City of Hancock gets its water from the old Champion Mine(?) in Painesdale, I just never thought much about it.

This may have its origin back in the early 1900s when the Champion Mine supplied water to the company town of Painesdale.

But come to think of it, why from Painesdale, and across the canal to Hancock?

There doesn't seem to be a shortage of old mine shafts on "da nort side" of the canal. Surely many with an ample supply of water that might serve as a source for the municipal water supply.

What am I missing here?

Is it a water quality issue?

What's so unique about Champion mine water that's not common to most water-filed old mine shafts in the Keweenaw?

I know we have geologists and mining engineers and the like on this site, but is there anyone here with a "muncipal water supply" answer?

By Matt Karhu (Matt_k) on Tuesday, September 2, 2008 - 12:47 pm:

I recall that an old friend, who was a resident of the Quincy Hill area long ago, told me that water from the nearby copper mines was delivered through lead and wooden pipes to his neighborhood many years ago. Could this be true?

By FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Thursday, September 4, 2008 - 02:56 pm:

Matt Karhu (Matt_k)
"an old friend, who was a resident of the Quincy Hill area long ago, told me that water from the nearby copper mines was delivered through lead and wooden pipes to his neighborhood"

Could that have been one of those "company towns", like perhaps around Lower Pewabic, where the homes were owned by the mining company and also supplied with water from the mine?

What, does no one here have any idea, opinions, or clues on the orignal question?

By Gustaf O. Linja (Gusso) on Thursday, September 4, 2008 - 03:37 pm:

Lead & Wood water pipes:
Wood pipes perhaps,but lead pipes for drinking water could very well cause lead poisoning to anybody drinking the water. Even way back then the hazards of lead pipes for drinking water was known. For sewer and other drainage pipe lead would be used, but very unlikely for drinking water.

By Theresa R. Brunk (Trb0013) on Thursday, September 4, 2008 - 05:10 pm:

Well since I am a plumber and a plumbing history buff, lead was INDEED used on drinking (potable) water service. It was a very short run used at the entrance to homes. 'It is the portion of the water service pipe running from the property line into the building that is made of or contains lead'. Called a 'lead service loop', or swag. It was finished with melted lead to seal using a leather "mitt" dipped or encased in wax.

Not only that, but in 1986 Federal law prohibited lead in Solder but any constructed homes prior to this date with copper service was joined with 50/50 solder which was 50% Lead.

And to finish, Plumb is Lead in Latin... hence Plumber is 'worker of Lead' including the symbol for lead on the periodic table is Pb.

and as we all know....Coronal Mustard did it in the Conservatory with a lead pipe.

By Heikki (Heikki) on Thursday, September 4, 2008 - 05:25 pm:

Lead pipes were used extensively for drinking water.....long before iron pipes, and were installed as late as the 1950's. Had one burst 6' under our front yard in Rockford, IL in the mid-70's. The house was built in the early 1950's. When lead was used for culinary purposes, the exposure to acids created the hazard, the reason tomatoes were considered toxic in the olden days. (Pewter plates contained lead.)

By Louis C. CARL (Louis_c) on Thursday, September 4, 2008 - 05:47 pm:

Prior to the 1950’s (give or take) almost all water mains were gray cast iron with “bell & spigot” or “hub & spigot” ends.
The joints were caulked joints made by tamping oakum into the socket. The oakum was retained & protected by tamping lead wool over it or pouring lead into the socket.
It took considerable skill & time to make the joint and to my knowledge nobody makes or uses bell & spigot pipe any more but probably most systems older than 50 years have lots of it.
This is AWWA site dealing w/ health issues

By Theresa R. Brunk (Trb0013) on Thursday, September 4, 2008 - 05:58 pm:

Sorry to correct Louis, but Service-Weight cast pipe is still manufactured and used. The only differance is that the 'Bell' end is sealed with neoprene gaskets today. Old timers still use lead when required, since you can not use PVC pipe in buildings over 3 stories because of weigh issues standing end on end. Most new skyscrapers still use Cast-Iron and the bell end has been replaced with 'spigot' on both ends.

By Michael Du Long (Mikie) on Thursday, September 4, 2008 - 11:10 pm:

Having served an apprenticship as a plumber I had to make lead joints in order to get my journeyman status. Then to get my masters I had to make three lead joints. My house has a lead pipe leading into the house. Being old and hard to convince, I think the new plastic is more dangerous then the lead in either the service or the copper pipe joints. Just because it is cheap doesn't mean it is safe. China is making the plastic pipe now and it probably has lead in the manufacturing process.

By Matt Karhu (Matt_k) on Friday, September 5, 2008 - 08:27 am:

I noticed that in areas where new homes are being built the sewer and water lines are all a type of plastic. The in-ground sewer and water main joints have rubber seals, the water lines in homes have "Pex" and "Shark teeth" connections and fittings. The hourly labor cost savings with these new materials is huge, a few "modern" plumbers I know like working with the new materials.

By Capt. Paul (Eclogite) on Friday, September 5, 2008 - 09:28 am:

This may help to answer some of your questions…..

As far as I know, Hancock does not (or no one else for that matter) get their water from any mine today. There was a time when Adams Township including Painesdale got their water from Champion Mine, which also fed Atlantic Mine community and Hancock. Today, those areas get their water from three 200 ft deep wells just south of Painesdale; very close to the Champion Mine, but not technically out of the mine.

I have provided a link that is a very good read from Michigan Tech about the drinking water in the Keweenaw. It is a bit old (1999), but the information in it sheds a lot of light on the location and quality of the drinking water:


Hope this helps……..

By Michael Du Long (Mikie) on Friday, September 5, 2008 - 11:14 am:

Matt, new technology, "harumph"

By FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Friday, September 5, 2008 - 11:53 am:

Well, thanks to Capt. Paul (Eclogite) for a very informative find. That also served to dispel the myth about Champion Mine being the source.

I note that Houghton appears to use about twice the water as does Hancock. I'd guess that MTU easily accounts for half of that.

Also, I see Hancock is charging their customers a little more than twice as much for their water as Houghton ($4.37 vs. $2.14 per 1000 gal.)! You have to wonder if that has anything to do with the somewhat improbable across-the-canal source of Hancock's water.

But a few questions remain.

1. What about old mine shafts as municipal water sources? Good idea? Bad idea? Why?

2. I do know that generally there's no shortage of artesian wells in da UP. Not so north of the canal?

3. Wouldn't there be some good prospects for a viable municipal water source north of the canal that might be a bit more practical than piping it under the canal from Painesdale?

(Maybe I'm thinking of the number of times some ships' anchors have ripped out the telephone cable(s) crossing the canal between Houghton and Hancock, and imagining the same kind of an event digging up the water line as well? — Although I would hope that it is buried a bit deeper than the phone lines!)

Oh, and thanks to the other contributors for the interesting mini education on plumbing/history as well; tho' perhaps a bit off the original topic, they were 'well' worth reading!

By Matt Karhu (Matt_k) on Friday, September 5, 2008 - 05:01 pm:

Mikie, re new technology "harumph"-that's what the old-timers in the plumbing business say but the young plumbers I know are content to work with both coppper and plastic water lines. I noticed that on one job the manifold was made with copper tees and tubing and was connected to the plastic lines with "shark teeth" fittings. That phase of the plumbing job was relatively expensive.

By Michael Du Long (Mikie) on Friday, September 5, 2008 - 10:52 pm:

Matt, I worked with the old pipe, galvanized for water then black for air, gas, and steam. Wasn't in the business when the plastic came about. I know it would be easier to plumb now with the modern materials. Just don't trust them. Kind of like the old cars that could be repaired in the driveway. Now a days you can only open the hood and say wow. Then you spend approximatly what the old cars cost to have the new ones repaired. No more shade tree mechanics. Or if there are I don't know any. In some ways the simpler days were better. During my plumbing days I poured many a lead joint on cast iron pipe. Only hammer mechanics would use lead wool to seal a joint.

By Brooke (Lovethekeweenaw) on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - 02:37 pm:

Our water quality report came out a few months ago and told us in Calumet/ Laurium about the water we recieve and that it came from I believe 3 wells in the area. It did not mention other areas though but I bet some people in Hancock got their report and maybe they remember? Or they just circular filed it.

By Capt. Paul (Eclogite) on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - 09:19 pm:

As far as I know, that link I provided back on September 5 is still correct in where the copper country municipalities (sp?) get their drinking water.

By Dave Jaehnig (Yooperdave1) on Tuesday, October 28, 2008 - 08:15 am:

Years ago, my father worked at MTU in ores research; he told me that Quincy Mine's copper contained arsenic, which is why the water from that mine cannot be used for municipal purposes. He told me that this is the reason why even after you polish copper from the Pewabic lode, it turns black quickly while copper from other places just turns green.

By Capt. Paul (Eclogite) on Thursday, October 30, 2008 - 03:29 pm:

Quincy Mine isn’t the only mine that contains arsenic, however. In fact, all native copper in the Keweenaw contains some arsenic in solid solution with the copper. The arsenic content in the copper ranges from between a few ten thousandths of a percent to over one half percent; a ten thousand fold variation!! In most mines the arsenic to copper ratio increases with depth in the orebody, meaning the deeper you go, the more arsenic in the copper.

I would bet that the black your Father saw Dave was Tenorite, a copper oxide (Cu2+O) which is thought to have formed after the mines were opened. However, there are some deposits where the oxidation was pre-mining in origin as well. Other coatings that are common on Keweenaw copper include cuprite (reddish-maroon) and malachite (bright green, and the most common). There are specimens from Quincy that exhibit all three coatings.

The moral of the story: not all copper is created equal...........

By Heikki (Heikki) on Thursday, October 30, 2008 - 04:13 pm:

That was interesting, Cap. Thx!

By Dave Jaehnig (Yooperdave1) on Sunday, November 2, 2008 - 06:50 am:

Thanks for the additional information, Cap. My dad seldom volunteered information on things like that; I suppose he didn't like to talk about work things when he was at home.I know I don't. At any rate, I wasn't aware of what you had written, and any time you would like to share more nifty things along these lines, I'm all ears (or eyes as the case may be)

By Capt. Paul (Eclogite) on Sunday, November 2, 2008 - 09:47 pm:

Not a problem........

That's why I created the Geology thread; to answer questions like this....

By dan belo (Djbelo) on Friday, January 1, 2010 - 07:37 pm:


By Gustaf O. Linja (Gusso) on Friday, January 1, 2010 - 07:53 pm:

Speaking of chemicals used in the C&H labs in Lake Linden; there is an above average number of people who worked there died from cancer in their later years, so I suspect there were many chemicals besides arsenic that workers were exposed to.

By Capt. Paul (Eclogite) on Saturday, January 2, 2010 - 04:52 pm:

Indeed; C&H had to remove the arsenic from the copper during smelting for many reasons, one of the most important is that arsenic destroys the conductivity of copper so removing as much as possible increases its capability to conduct eletricity. However, that I know of, arsenic was never added to copper in the Keweenaw; that would have been done at places like Wolverine Tube in Detroit where specialty materials were developed. In addition, the only real industrial use for arsenical copper is the fabrication of copper locomotive fireboxes, long used in Britain from a distrust of steel in this application. Today, cadmium has replaced arsenic for most applications that required the addition of arsenic to copper.

As far as drinking water in the Keweenaw, the link I provided earlier in this thread is a very good read about the quality of the water. The maximum contaminant level for arsenic in Michigan drinking water is 50 parts per billion (ppb). While there is arsenic in the water, it is only 0-2 ppb, well below the MCL for drinking water. Arsenic is a natural by-product of the native copper found in the Keweenaw. It is soluble as it enters the ecosystem though the erosion of natural deposits, runoff from orchards, etc...

There were indeed many other chemicals used besides arsenic in the processing of native coppers. Some of the chemicals include cupric ammonium carbonate, lime, pyridine oil, coal-tar and wood creosotes, pine oil, xanthates, beryllium, and many aromatic hydrocarbons to name a few. Some of these pose no threat to humans, while others are known to cause cancer if exposed over a long period of time.

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