Copper’s role in germ control touted

Amidst an economic and metals sector downturn, copper gets an endorsement as a germ fighter.

Research has determined that copper surfaces can impede the survivability of many microbial germs.
Research has determined that copper surfaces can impede the survivability of many microbial germs.
Photo by Dreamstime.

Guest news from GIE Media's Brian Taylor, senior editor of Recycling Today magazine.

The 21st century, though only two decades old, has hosted outbreaks for several new viruses or bacteria, with the COVID-19 epidemic currently underway only the latest.

COVID-19 is proving harmful to economies around the world, with metals demand and pricing in a severe trough. However, one nonferrous metal could emerge with a health-related factor boosting its medium- and long-term prospects.

In a recent website posting, the Copper Development Association (CDA) says more research is essential—and that household consumers must be aware of sensationalized claims. The CDA also makes reference, though, to several studies that have pointed to copper’s current and potential role as a surface that is more resistant to germs than many others.

One such study was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the CDA, and it found “that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, remained viable for up to 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces versus up to [just] 4 hours on copper.”

Another study mentioned by the CDA examined the “antimicrobial efficacy of uncoated copper and copper alloy surfaces against human pathogens” in general.

The CDA has long hosted a section on its website aggregating information on the potential anti-microbial benefits of copper surfaces in health care and other applications.

A March 16 online article on the FastCompany website quotes a United Kingdom-based professor as saying researchers have “seen viruses just blow apart” when they land on copper or brass surfaces.

The FastCompany article also cites a 1983 study conducted at a Pittsburgh hospital that swabbed various surfaces and tested them for germ retention. “Sleek and shining stainless steel door knobs and push plates look reassuringly clean on a hospital door. By contrast, door knobs and push plates of tarnished brass look dirty and contaminating,” she wrote at that time.

But Kuhn and fellow researchers reportedly found that tarnished brass killed bacteria effectively while stainless steel did “little to impede bacterial growth.”

The U.K. researcher, Bill Keevil of the University of Southampton, is finding that copper ions “penetrate cells and viruses like bullets,” according to FastCompany. The articles adds, “The copper doesn’t just kill these pathogens; it destroys them, right down to the nucleic acids, or reproductive blueprints, inside.” Keevil states “That’s one of the real benefits of copper.”

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