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Killer Copper
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 October 2006 From the Editor's Desk
E-mail Maryann Gorman

Killer Copper

Having become familiar over many (I will not say just how many) years with the varied uses of the metals that ASTM International standardizes, I was a little surprised to see copper, for one, in a whole new light — as a killer. This is not a problem for you unless you’re a microbe, but if you are, copper is a distinctly inhospitable environment.

This is most graphically depicted in this epifluorescence image, which shows the prevalence of E. coli after it’s been sitting on copper for 90 minutes, or rather, the non-prevalence of E.coli — it’s virtually eliminated. This is important information for people like hospital administrators, who need tools in their fight against infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, a difficult-to-treat and potentially deadly bacterium that can thrive in hospital environments, but which also perishes on copper. Using copper for touch surfaces such as door hardware, bedrails, faucets and so on can go a long way toward reducing the incidence of MRSA and other infections in healthcare facilities.

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are also prime candidates for the copper cure. Aspergillus niger (black mold), commonly found in HVAC systems, is eliminated by mere contact with copper in six hours, strongly suggesting that designing these systems with copper components could reduce the need for maintenance where mold and fungi are concerned.

Interestingly, our ancestors seem to have instinctively known what we can prove today with complex imaging procedures. According to the feature in this issue by Harold T. Michels of the Copper Development Association, copper was used by ancient civilizations to sterilize drinking water and wounds and to treat sore throats, boils, and eye infections. With current U.S. headlines featuring another tragic outbreak of E. coli infections from the food supply chain, the appearance of Michels’ article is well-timed, and we would do well to put copper on the front lines of our modern attempts to reduce the suffering caused by microbial infections.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief

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