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Copper and Its Alloys: The Superhero of Metal

Posted on Monday, September 21, 2015 by Paige DiAntonio

Germs are everywhere.  No matter how many times we may wash our hands, every day we have the potential to come in contact with harmful bacteria and a whole slew of other unwelcoming microbes.  Germs are especially dangerous in hospitals and food processing facilities because improperly sterilized surfaces can become breeding grounds for serious bacterial infections such as Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA, and E.Coli.

According to the Copper Alliance, “80% of all infections are spread by touch, and a contaminated hand can contaminate the next seven surfaces it touches.”  Tests conducted by the US EPA show that copper and copper alloys killed 99.9% of microbes within 2 hours, making copper and copper alloys great materials to use when manufacturing touch surfaces.  What is a touch surface?  A touch surface is an object where people have direct skin-to-skin contact.  Virtually every object in a hospital room can be considered a touch surface; bed rails, IV poles, call buttons, over-bed tables, door knobs, faucets, etc., thus increasing a patient’s susceptibility to contract dangerous health-care acquired infections.  The same applies in a kitchen or food processing facility- mixers, conveyors, work tables, and many other surfaces are at risk for cross contamination and foodborne pathogens.

In a study published by Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology in 2011, it was concluded that “the placement of copper objects in Intensive Care Unit hospital rooms reduced the number of healthcare-acquired infections (HAI) in patients by more than half.”  The study was conducted at three medical centers across the nation including the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center.  Patients admitted to the ICU of these hospitals were randomly assigned conventional hospital rooms, or rooms with touch surfaces that were made solely from copper and copper alloys.  The percentage of patients who developed HAI in rooms with copper surfaces was significantly lower (7.1%), than patients staying in traditional hospital rooms (12.3%). 

With this in mind, how do you know what copper alloy to choose to keep your work area clean? Well, there is a vast selection of alloy variations to pick from that include a broad range of colors, and properties.  Over 450 copper alloys benefit from copper’s inherent antimicrobial characteristic, and are registered and approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be marketed in the US for public health claims.  Antimicrobial copper alloys must have a minimum copper content of 60% and include various forms of bronze, brass, and nickel. 

Whether you are in need of new bed rails for a hospital bed, or a new work station in your restaurant kitchen, consider copper and copper alloys as a safe option to protect the public health of your institution.  

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