As a major copper producer, we believe we can play an important role in increasing the use of antimicrobial copper in both healthcare facilities and public spaces to reduce the spread of infections. Through our Copper & Health program, Teck is supporting research, infrastructure investments and raising awareness for antimicrobial copper to be used in reducing the spread of bacteria and viruses as we move through our daily lives.
The Role of Antimicrobial Copper
Research has demonstrated that copper has natural antimicrobial properties, killing up to 99.9% of harmful bacteria and viruses when used in high-touch surfaces. Additionally, copper is the only solid metal contact surface registered as a public health product by Health Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
In recognition of these benefits, there is growing use of antimicrobial copper in healthcare facilities around the world to reduce the spread of healthcare-acquired infections. To date, antimicrobial copper has been installed in more than 300 healthcare facilities in 26 countries globally.
Reducing Hospital Acquired Infections
Our Copper & Health program began with a focus on addressing the issue of Hospital Acquired-Infections (HAIs), which are often spread from touching contaminated surfaces such as door handles, push buttons and equipment. HAIs threaten the most vulnerable populations, including immunocompromised people and newborn children. Partnering with several hospitals throughout British Columbia, Teck has supported the installation of copper-infused surfaces and equipment in emergency rooms, ICUs, medical & surgical centres and other high-infection risk areas to make hospitals safer for patients, employees and visitors.
While there is growing evidence around the world to support the use of copper surfaces in healthcare, we learned that gaps in existing research were a barrier to adoption in Canada.
Between 2017 and 2020 Teck supported a long-term copper durability study performed in four Canadian hospitals across the country including Vancouver General Hospital, B.C. Children’s and Women’s Hospital, Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto’s North York General Hospital, alongside study partners VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, the University of British Columbia and the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR). The aim of the study was to assess whether three different copper-containing materials and a stainless-steel control differed in their antimicrobial capability, durability over time, and resilience to hospital-grade cleaners. With some variance, all copper materials exhibited significant bacterial reduction compared to stainless steel, and maintained their efficacy over time. These findings are being shared broadly with the healthcare community to encourage the continued adoption of copper and revised cleaning practices for existing products.
Supporting a New Canadian Standard for Healthcare Cleaning and Disinfection
In March 2020, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group published the first national standard in Canada related to the cleaning and disinfection of healthcare facilities (CSA Z317.12:20, Cleaning and disinfection of health care facilities). The standard, supported by Teck’s Copper & Health program, will improve healthcare cleaning procedures and includes the first formal reference in Canada to copper as an example of a self-sanitizing surface that can supplement manual cleaning and disinfection processes.
“We truly believe that the implementation of this standard and the use of antimicrobial copper will have a positive impact on reducing the rates of infections for patients in all of Canada’s healthcare facilities,” said Richard Dixon, Chair of the Technical Subcommittee of the CSA.
Copper & Health in Chile
In 2020 Teck expanded the Copper & Health program to Chile, partnering with leading national health professionals and academics on a pilot project at the Iquique Hospital. Researchers from Universidad del Desarrollo (UDD) and research organization Núcleo Milenio MICROB-R, with funding from Teck, will conduct a study of copper surfaces and textiles to assess copper’s ability to decrease the incidence of in-hospital infections. The research will be carried out at the Regional Hospital of Iquique, with results expected in the second half of 2021.
"It is an honour for Teck to launch our Copper & Health program now in Chile, partnering with leading national health professionals and academics in this first research at the Iquique Hospital, which will increase understanding of the efficacy of copper and its antimicrobial characteristics helping to reduce in-hospital infections in our country," said Amparo Cornejo, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Affairs, Teck Chile.
Copper and COVID-19
In light of the pressing danger that surfaces contaminated with the COVID-19 virus pose, we have broadened the focus of our Copper & Health program to examine the role that copper can play in public, high-traffic, high-touch spaces. A recent study published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Center for Disease Control, UCLA and Princeton University found that COVID-19 survived less than four hours on copper surfaces, compared to up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. We are partnering with TransLink, Vancouver Coastal Health, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR), and the University of British Columbia to test antimicrobial copper coatings on high-touch surfaces on buses and SkyTrain cars in Metro Vancouver, B.C. Read our case study on how Teck is Partnering to Test Germ-Killing Copper on Vancouver Public Transit for more details.
For our own employee health, we have installed copper-infused door handles in all common areas and bathroom doors at Teck’s Vancouver Head Office, and we are incorporating copper infrastructure in all office spaces at our other corporate offices. Sampling showed an 80-90 % reduction in bacteria on these surfaces following the copper installation. We are now expanding this to all Teck offices and reviewing opportunities for our operational sites.
Learn more about antimicrobial copper and our Copper & Health program at www.coppersaveslives.com.