As a major copper producer, we are committed to raising awareness and advocating for the use of copper as an innovative solution to healthcare-acquired infections. There is no commercial benefit to Teck from the increased use of copper in healthcare, as the total quantity of metal required is extremely small. Rather, we have two goals: to improve health outcomes for people and to raise awareness about the important role that mining and metals play in our everyday lives.
Our Copper & Health program has three focus areas:
Building the Evidence Base
SARS-Cov-2 Copper Alloy Study (in progress)
A study currently underway at George Washington University will directly test copper’s impacts on the novel coronavirus, including varied alloys, time periods and conditions. It will build on a previous National Institute of Health study that showed that SARS-CoV-2 was completely destroyed within four hours on copper surfaces, as compared to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Results of the Teck-supported study are expected in mid-2021.
Cross-Canada Durability Study
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. Hospital administrators were hesitant to make a capital investment when it was unknown if these products would be effective over the long-term.
From 2017-2020, Teck supported a study in four hospitals across Canada 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 study, published in February 2020 in the Journal of Biointerphases, found that three copper products exhibited significant (albeit varied) bacterial reduction compared to stainless steel, and maintained their efficacy over time. These findings are being shared broadly with healthcare decision makers and our healthcare partners and contacts to encourage the continued adoption of copper and revised cleaning practices for existing products.
CSA Standard on Healthcare Cleaning & Infection
In March 2020, the Canadian Standards Association published the first national standard in Canada related to the cleaning and disinfection of healthcare facilities. The standard will improve healthcare cleaning procedures and encourage innovative approaches that are being increasingly adopted around the world. It includes the first formal recommendation in Canada to introduce coppers surfaces as a means to reduce the spread of infection in hospitals.
Teck’s funding supported the establishment of the technical committee of 25 Canadian healthcare experts, extensive stakeholder engagement and a national public review process to support publication of the standard.
Partnership & Advocacy
Due to the global pandemic, the importance of reducing the spread of infection spread outside of healthcare gained widespread recognition. Teck supported a pilot project with Translink to test 3 copper alloy on high-volume trains and buses, the first of its kind in North America. Additionally study partners include VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, the University of British Columbia and the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR).
Results from the industry-leading trial show that copper is effective at killing bacteria on high-touch transit surfaces. Based on sample-testing performed on transit and in a lab, the trial concludes that select copper products on transit are durable and kill up to 99.9 per cent of all bacteria within one hour of the bacteria’s contact with the surface.
We are now developing phase 2 of the study, which will expand the installation of copper on trains and buses; test directly for viruses including corona; and extend the length of the study to simulate one-year of use.
Antimicrobial copper coatings on high-touch transit surfaces are being piloted for their capacity to help reduce the spread of infection
To date, antimicrobial copper has been installed in more than 300 healthcare facilities in 26 countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. However; Canada and other countries are behind in adding this germ-killing tool to their arsenal.
Teck has partnered with local hospitals throughout Canada and Chile to support 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.
Each investment includes a full review and assessment of the project to further research on the impact and benefits of copper in reducing HAI.
Partners include Vancouver General Hospital, Lions Gate Hospital and Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in British Columbia, and Iquique Hospital in Chile. We are also engaging with other hospitals to explore potential partnerships.
Copper-infused counters at VGH are helping to reduce HAI infection rates
While there can be a higher up-front cost to install copper surfaces, the payoff can be extraordinary: an investigation by the York Health Economics Consortium in the United Kingdom found that the cost to install antimicrobial copper components in hospitals would be recouped in less than two months due to the decrease in patient infections and reduced length of stay.
As evidence and in-hospital use of copper surfaces increases throughout Canada, we continue to see growing interest from a number of key stakeholders. Teck is sharing research and information with provincial health authorities and working with provincial and federal governments to support further research and use of copper. Through our national advocacy work with the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR), we are continuing to work with the federal and provincial government to establish standards and recommendations for all new healthcare facility projects.
In November 2018, Teck worked with a microbiologist to swab commonly touched surfaces throughout the Teck’s Head Office in Vancouver. We discovered a wide range of bacterial burden on various surfaces, and this data helped inform a recommendation to install copper-infused hardware on all common areas and bathroom door handles, as well as the 33rd floor reception desk and courier counter.
In November 2019, the retrofitted surfaces were re-swabbed. There was an 80-90% reduction in bacteria on the high-touch surfaces replaced with copper. We are pleased that copper surfaces are making a real difference in reducing the spread of bacteria throughout the office.
We are now working with organizations to support the installation of copper surfaces to provide added protection in public spaces and workplaces.