July 7th, 2011
Econintersect: For decades stainless steel has been the material of choice for sterile environments in such places as hospitals. Yet, it turns out that stainless steel, a relatively modern material, is far inferior for fighting bacteria than an ancient material: copper. In recent years research evidence has been mounting that copper offers unique advantages for sterile environments over almost any other material because it is anti-bacterial. That's right, copper kills bacteria! More than 99.9% of bacteria that contact it are dead within two hours. (Pictured: copper tools from Serbia ca. 5,500 bc.) Follow up:
The powers of copper have been known for millenia, but have been forgotten by the modern world. From Money Morning:
What's puzzling is why antimicrobial copper isn't already a popular commodity. In this case, modern science is playing catch-up to our ancient ancestors.
Throughout human history people seem to have recognized the red metal's mystical powers, often using copper containers to store and transport water; a practice still common today. Ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and the Aztecs used copper as a medicine and to forge medical instruments. Although they couldn't have understood how it worked, they could readily observe the health benefits.
So how does it work? Copper releases ions that penetrate the cell walls of microbes, disrupting their ability to function and reproduce.
Better still, copper retains its bacteria-killing effectiveness even when mixed with other metals such as nickel and tin. That has helped ease aesthetic concerns, as many of the current antibacterial copper products are alloys of a lighter color and a finish closer to that of stainless steel.
Curiously, modern man will apparently more readily accept copper in an alloy that looks more like the inferior stainless, even when the science is proven and the effectiveness of copper certified by the U.S. government.
The potential beneficial effets are huge. From Reuters:
"We started with an idea and four short years later we now have a potential solution to one of the world's most devastating problems," said Dr. Michael Schmidt, professor of microbiology at the Medical University of South Carolina whose hospital took part in the research.
Schmidt and teams of doctors at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in South Carolina and New York City's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center collected data from copper surfaces to prove that the metal curbs hospital-acquired infections, which kill more than 100,000 people a year in the United States and cost $45 billion per year to treat.
World Health.net suggests that copper could be used in all public environments on such things as door handles, railings, plumbing and just about everything metal, including such diverse things as food prep areas, shopping carts and ATMs. There are even some surprising possibilities. From Money Morning:
...at least one company, Richmond, VA-based Cupron, has found a way to use antimicrobial copper in fabric, including socks, sheets and pillowcases. The bedding is supposed to fight facial wrinkles, but the socks were sent to the trapped Chilean miners last year to keep their feet free from infection.
Of course, this could men big bucks for copper producing companies and miners. Money Morning mentions Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (NYSE: FCX), Southern Copper Corp. (NYSE: SCCO), and Teck Resources Ltd. (NYSE: TCK). Reuters mentioned a fourth comnpany, Codelco CODEL.U.