It has been well documented that copper can attack many bacteria, fungi and viruses, including MRSA, E. coli, Influenza and Norovirus.
The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used copper-based preparations to treat ailments and prevent wound infections, as copper breaks up the exterior shell of most viral particles, thus inhibiting its reproduction.
The antimicrobial properties of copper are only comparable with gold and silver, and the latter is used in many copper alloys in the form of bronzes and brasses; however, it is not used as pure copper in large scale production. The EPA antimicrobial Stewardship clarified, in regards to COVID-19 that “[…] a recent U.S. government-funded study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, remained viable for up to 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces vs. up to 4 hours on copper” and “Copper alloy materials are registered by EPA (Reg. Nos. 82012-1 to 6) to make public health claims against six specific bacteria (e.g. continuously kills >99.9% of MRSA within 2 hours of contact between routine cleanings). Considering the limited evidence against SARS-CoV-2 referenced above, further testing would be required to assess the effectiveness of copper surfaces, and to support EPA-registered product label claims against SARS-CoV-2.”
Copper is ubiquitous in the environment and naturally occurs in many food sources such as nuts, organ meats and grains. Copper may also be found in drinking water, commonly due to the use of copper plumbing fixtures and water pipes.
Another use of copper-containing products is to control microbes in agriculture, crops, algae, and aquatic weed, and for antimicrobial applications in general.
With advances in technology, nanotechnology and 3D printing, copper uses have found more fertile soil, since the smaller the copper particles are the better their use in specialty clothing. At the same time, copper and copper alloys are also a good strategy (and are being used already) for counters, handrails, medical equipment, hospital beds, medical instrument containers, handles and in public transportation.
Sooner or later facility managers and owners will look at passive ways to make their buildings safer and immune to harboring viruses and bacteria, and architects are part of the decision-making process that can make this happen.
In the time of this pandemic, we want to be cautious that not all viruses are the same and not all materials will be as effective against Covid-19. However, as we look into the future, design professionals should be prepared to educate clients on this mostly overlooked material. We can only hope that the construction industry will catch up and offer more affordable and diverse products.
Paulina Beeche, Senior Associate, Penza Bailey Architects