Opportunities for Copper

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Back in February we wrote about funding that was made available to look into the anti microbial properties of Copper Alloys as a positive new development for the copper alloys industry. We are pleased to report that the EPA has now given its approval to the public health claim that surfaces composed of certain copper alloys can kill off life threatening bacteria.

For the scientists among us this happens because copper releases ions that kill bacteria according to research done at the University of Chile in Santiago. The copper ions separate on contact with bacteria and cause irreversible damage to the bacteria cells. Basically they die! The research was carried out on the wide spread and prevalent killer MSRA – often termed the super bug because of the difficulty that hospitals have in removing it from their environment and its resistance to many antibiotics. According to the American Medical Association, MSRA caused 18,650 deaths in US hospitals in 2005. If this is correct, it would make staphylococcus infections a more likely cause of death than AIDS that year.

It should be stressed that copper alloys for door knobs, counter tops, railings and intravenous needles (just some of the uses being suggested by the industry as suitable applications) would be a supplement to standard infection controls not a replacement for them. But for the industry it represents possibly the largest new market for the metal in the last 5 years. With demand from the building industry down dramatically and many other industries flat, both producers and distributors are hoping there will be early acceptance at least in the refit market. Our understanding from the distributor market is that it has been a challenging first half for copper alloys with demand down some 20% from last year. The EPA’s approval may have come at just the right time to create some much need new sales opportunities.

–Stuart Burns

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