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More copper to fight future pandemics

WMC seeks increased antimicrobial copper use, mining in US Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – April 22, 2020

Series: COVID-19 | Story 10

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of women miners are calling for more copper and its natural virus fighting properties in hospitals and other public places.

"Copper has proven antimicrobial and anti-viral properties that could play an important role in fighting the COVID-19 virus and in minimizing the spread of other viruses and bacteria that could cause future pandemics," the Women's Mining Coalition penned in a recent paper on the public health benefits of copper.

While the sterilizing properties of copper are not a new discovery, by raising the awareness to the benefits of copper these women hope that a more proactive approach to present and future infectious contagions can be undertaken.

Copper can help mitigate damage by its natural properties alone. When a microbe is on the surface of copper, or even a copper alloy, the copper itself naturally begins to damage the cell.

Copper-bearing doorknobs, countertops and other touchable surfaces continuously kill bacteria, yeasts, and viruses – forever. This incessant and long-lasting effectiveness against dangerous microbes makes the red metal an ideal material for highly infectious areas.

The use of copper as an antimicrobial agent was very prevalent early in the 20th century until the advent of commercially available antibiotics in 1932.

The spread of antibiotic resistance through selective pressure began and today has made antibiotic-resistant bacteria ubiquitous in hospitals, nursing homes, food processing plants, and animal breeding facilities.

This has raised the need for different approaches to keep pathogenic microorganisms at bay.

A 1983 report documenting the beneficial effects of using brass and bronze on doorknobs to prevent the spread of microbes in hospitals – findings that remained largely unnoticed until the outbreak of COVID-19.

Similarly, the idea of using copper vessels to render water drinkable, something that has been known for millennia, has been revived only very recently as a low-cost alternative for developing countries.

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, there is an intense interest in the use of copper as a self-sanitizing material, and many recent publications deal with mechanistic aspects of "contact killing" by copper.

With the antimicrobial activity of copper and copper alloys well established, in 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered copper alloys as the first solid antimicrobial public health materials.

In several clinical studies, copper has been reevaluated for use on touch surfaces, such as door handles, bathroom fixtures, or bed rails, in attempts to curb hospital originating infections.

In view of these facts, the Women's Mining Coalition is asking Congress to take action.

In its paper, WMC is calling on Congress to enact policies that:

Support and provide appropriate funding to increase the use of copper as new or replacement surfaces in America's hospitals and public places.

Promote responsible development of U.S. copper resources.

Ensure public lands with known copper deposits remain available for mineral exploration and development.

Reduce our reliance on copper from non-allied foreign countries.

Expand our domestic copper processing capabilities to eliminate our dependence on smelters in China and other countries.

Currently copper is not on the U.S. Geological Survey's list of 35 minerals and metals critical to America.

Given its importance to the technologies vital to America's economy and security, a naturally occurring disinfectant material could very well be the thing to propel it into the limelight.

More so it does not have to be copper alone, in 2011 the EPA approved 355 copper alloys that contain at least 65% copper as solid surface materials for use against six types of disease-causing bacteria.

In total, 282 copper alloys with copper contents greater than 60% are registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and can carry the name "antimicrobial copper."

The WMC hopes that domestically sourced copper could be employed to further make secure areas that will be most affected during this and future pandemics, particularly hospitals.


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