Copper’s EPA-recognized germ-killing attributes point to a new avenue to growth

Oct 01, 2009 | 09:17 AM |

It's a lean, green, killing machine—except when it hasn't oxidized, in which case it's a lean, red, killing machine.

Copper, the common element routinely used in the production of plumbing systems and electrical wiring, is a proven antimicrobial agent. Tarnished or not, copper, brass and bronze surfaces have been shown to kill most harmful bacteria—from antibiotic-resistant superbug staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to the food-poisoning E. coli strains—within hours of contact. Scientists don't know exactly why uncoated copper and copper alloys have germ-fighting superpowers, but with the fear of a global pandemic following this summer's swine flu outbreak, they don't care as long as it works.

Copper's bacteria-blasting properties are as inherent to the metal as thermal and electrical conductivity and have been used, though not always understood, by humans since ancient times. Ancient Egyptians used copper vessels to sterilize drinking water, according to the New York-based Copper Development Association (CDA), while healers throughout the ages have recommended the red metal in treatments to cure everything from intestinal worms to varicose veins.

But while copper's antimicrobial properties have been employed in health care for centuries, only in recent times have copper producers got the go-ahead to tout the metal's germ-busting nature. In March 2008, following extensive testing of 3,000 copper alloy samples, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared copper alloys an antimicrobial agent, a classification once granted only to liquids, gases and aerosols used as sanitizers and disinfectants. In the year and a half since then, copper users coast to coast have filed "me-too" registrations with the EPA to have their products declared antimicrobial, while scientists have bustled to confirm the efficacy of copper in various germ-filled settings.....

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