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Copper & Health

As a major copper producer, we believe we can play an important role in increasing the use of copper in healthcare facilities to reduce the spread of healthcare-acquired infections. Through our Copper & Health program, Teck is building partnerships, raising awareness and improving health outcomes for patients, visitors and healthcare workers.

What are Healthcare-acquired Infections?

In healthcare facilities across Canada and around the world, harmful bacteria exist on commonly touched surfaces.  As a result, patients, healthcare workers and visitors to healthcare facilities are at risk of becoming infected with serious healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs).  These infections often spread from touching contaminated surfaces, such as door handles, push buttons and equipment.  

Every day, these preventable infections result in prolonged hospital stays, increased costs for the healthcare system, a rise in antibiotic resistance and unnecessary deaths. More than 250,000 patients will contract an infection while receiving care in Canada annually, and 14,000 of these patients will die as a result. HAIs are the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada and cost the Canadian healthcare system more than $1 billion annually, and most of these infections are completely preventable.


The Role of Antimicrobial Copper

Copper has unique antimicrobial properties and is proven to continuously kill bacteria that cause infection, is safe for people and the environment, and is the only solid metal touch surface registered as a public health product by Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When installed on high touch surfaces, copper will eliminate up to 99.9% of harmful bacteria. As a result, around the world there is growing use of antimicrobial copper in healthcare facilities to reduce the spread of healthcare-acquired infections. To date, antimicrobial copper has been installed in more than 300 healthcare facilities in 26 countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. 

Antimicrobial copper requires no new processes, staff training or special maintenance. While patient rooms and common areas are sanitized and cleaned every day, that still leaves 23-and-a-half hours for bacteria to grow, and for people to touch surfaces and spread bacteria between patients, visitors and healthcare workers. Antimicrobial copper supplements standardized hospital cleaning by killing bacteria around the clock.

While there can be a higher up-front cost to install the 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.
 

Teck is a proud member of the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction and is supporting its goal of an 80% reduction in HAIs by 2024. Learn more.


Numbers We Can't Ignore

250,000  

Patients will contract an infection while receiving care in Canada every year; 14,000 of these patients will die.

50%  

Of healthcare-acquired infections are resistant to at least one type of antibiotic.

$1 billion 

Healthcare-acquired infections are estimated to cost the Canadian healthcare system annually.

99.9%  

Amount of bacteria killed within two hours of contact with antimicrobial copper.

Our Copper & Health Program

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 raise awareness about the important role that mining and metals play in our everyday lives and to improve health outcomes for people.

Our Copper & Health program has three focus areas:

Building the Evidence Base

Cross-Canada Durability Study
While there is growing evidence around the world to support the use of copper surfaces in healthcare, 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. In 2017, Teck supported the development and launch of a study in four hospitals across Canada to answer two questions: 

  1. How durable are the three most popular copper products in a healthcare environment, especially when cleaned daily with hospital-grade disinfectants? 

  2. Do the products maintain their efficacy over time? 

Study participants included the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver General Hospital, B.C. Children’s and Women’s Hospital, Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto’s North York General Hospital and the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR). 

Published in February 2020 in the Journal of Biointerphases, the study found that the three copper products exhibited varying levels of antimicrobial activity both over the longterm and with cleaning products, but there was still significant bacterial reduction across the board compared to stainless steel. 

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

Hospital Partnerships
Teck has partnered with local hospitals throughout BC 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, St. Paul’s 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


Local Advocacy 
As local evidence and in-hospital use of copper surfaces increases throughout B.C., 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.

National Advocacy 
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.

Raising Awareness
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 January 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.


Copper Case Study: Sentara Leigh Hospital, Virginia

In 2013, Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, VA embarked on a major redevelopment project to rebuild its existing hospital in stages. The first phase of construction was to replace the 1970s-era acute care wing with a new hospital wing. As part of the redevelopment project, the hospital installed more than 15,000 horizontal square feet of antimicrobial copper on virtually every clinical and patient room surface in the new wing. Researchers wanted to determine if the installation of antimicrobial copper on a wide range of surfaces could help reduce healthcare-acquired infections and improve patient health. It is the world’s largest known clinical trial of antimicrobial copper surfaces to date.

The results were overwhelmingly positive. The new hospital wing with copper surfaces had 83% fewer C. difficile infections and 78% fewer multi-drug resistant organism (MRDO) infections. There were no changes in the HAI rates in the unmodified hospital wings at Sentara Leigh Hospital.

“Each one of those avoided infections is going to get patients out of the hospital quicker, potentially could avoid a re-admission…and all of this is not even discussing the impact on the patient”, says Robert Broermann, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Sentara Healthcare, discussing the return on investment from installing antimicrobial copper in the new wing. 

Given the success of the trial, Sentara Healthcare plans to retro-fit all 12 Sentara hospitals with antimicrobial copper products, including bedside tables and bed rails, to reduce healthcare-acquired infections and keep patients healthy. Sentara is also exploring the potential for antimicrobial copper products in its nursing and assisted living centers. Learn more


Copper in the News


Our WE Day Campaign

In 2018, Teck launched a Copper Saves Lives campaign at WE Day events across Canada. WE Day is an annual youth empowerment event that encourages young people to make a difference, both in their community and around the world. Teck’s Copper Saves Lives campaign encouraged students to think about where in their communities copper-infused surfaces could help reduce the spread of germs and keep people healthy. 


Teck

Teck is a diversified resource company committed to responsible mining and mineral development with business units focused on copper, zinc, steelmaking coal and energy.