Copper Facts: Antimicrobial Copper

Copper Fact 1

In February 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the registration of 275 antimicrobial copper alloys. By April 2011, that number expanded to 355. This permits public health claims that copper, brass and bronze are capable of killing harmful, potentially deadly bacteria. Copper is the first solid surface material to receive this type of EPA registration, which is supported by extensive antimicrobial efficacy testing. *

* U.S. EPA registration is based on independent laboratory tests showing that, when cleaned regularly, copper, brass and bronze kill greater than 99.9% of the following bacteria within 2 hours of exposure: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VRE), Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7.

Copper Fact 2

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that infections acquired in U.S. hospitals affect two million individuals every year and result in nearly 100,000 deaths annually. The use of copper alloys for frequently touched surfaces, as a supplement to existing CDC-prescribed hand-washing and disinfection regimens, has far-reaching implications.

Copper Fact 3

Potential uses of the antimicrobial alloys where they can help reduce the amount of disease-causing bacteria in healthcare facilities include: door and furniture hardware, bed rails, over-bed trays, intravenous (IV) stands, dispensers, faucets, sinks and work stations.

Copper Fact 4

Initial studies at the University of Southampton, UK, and tests subsequently performed at ATS-Labs in Eagan, Minnesota, for the EPA show that copper-base alloys containing 65% or more copper are effective against:

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VRE)
  • Enterobacter aerogenes
  • Escherichia coli O157:H7
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

These bacteria are considered to be representative of the most dangerous pathogens capable of causing severe and often fatal infections.

The EPA studies show that on copper alloy surfaces, greater than 99.9% of MRSA, as well as the other bacteria shown above, are killed within two hours at room temperature.

Copper Fact 5

The MRSA "superbug" is a virulent bacterium resistant to broad spectrum antibiotics and, therefore, very difficult to treat. It is a common source of infection in hospitals and is increasingly being found in the community as well. According to the CDC, MRSA can cause serious, potentially life-threatening infections.

Copper Fact 6

Unlike coatings or other materials treatments, the antibacterial efficacy of copper metals won't wear away. They are solid through-and-through and are effective even when scratched. They offer long-term protection; whereas, antimicrobial coatings are fragile, and can deteriorate or and wear off after time.

Copper Fact 7

Congressionally funded clinical trials were begun in at three U.S. hospitals in 2007. They are evaluating the efficacy of antimicrobial copper alloys in stemming the infection rates of MRSA, vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) and Acinetobacter baumannii, of particular concern since the beginning of the Iraq War. Additional studies are seeking to determine copper's efficacy on other potentially lethal microbes, including Klebsiella pneumophila, Legionella pneumophila, Rotavirus, Influenza A, Aspergillus niger, Salmonella enterica, Campylobacter jejuni and others.

Copper Fact 8

A second congressionally funded program is investigating copper's ability to inactivate airborne pathogens in HVAC (heating, ventilating and air-conditioning) environments. In today's modern buildings, there is strong concern about indoor air quality and exposure to toxic microorganisms. This has created a dire need to improve hygienic conditions of HVAC systems, which are believed to be factors in over 60% of all sick-building situations (e.g., aluminum fins in HVAC systems have been identified as sources of significant microbial populations).

Copper Fact 9

In immunocompromised individuals, exposure to potent microorganisms from HVAC systems can result in severe and sometimes fatal infections. The use of antimicrobial copper instead of biologically-inert materials in heat exchanger tube, fins, condensate drip pans and filters may prove to be a viable and cost-effective means to help control the growth of bacteria and fungi that thrive in dark, damp HVAC systems.

Copper Fact 10

Copper tube helps stem out­breaks of Legion­naire's Dis­ease, where bacteria grow in and spread from the tubing and other materials in air-condi­tioning sys­tems not made of copper. Copper surfaces are inhos­pitable to the growth of Legionella and other bacteria.

Copper Fact 11

In the Bordeaux district of France, the 19th century French scientist Millardet noticed that vines daubed with a paste of copper sulfate and lime to make the grapes unattractive to theft appeared to be freer of downy mildew disease. This observation led to a cure (known as Bordeaux Mixture) for the dreaded mildew and prompted the commencement of protective crop spraying. Trials with copper mixtures against various fungal diseases soon revealed that many plant diseases could be prevented with small amounts of copper. Ever since, copper fungicides have been indispensable all over the world.

Copper Fact 12

While conducting research in India in 2005, English microbiologist Rob Reed observed villagers storing water in brass vessels. When he asked them why they used brass, the villagers said it protected them against waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea and dysentery. Reed tested their theory under laboratory conditions by introducing E. coli bacteria to water in brass pitchers. Within 48 hours, the amount of living bacteria in the water had been reduced to undetectable levels.