Copper Use Could Rise Soon

Recognition of antimicrobial properties for copper in such applications as doorknobs may lead to wider use of the alloy in HVAC.

Major developments regarding the antimicrobial properties of copper in such basic applications as doorknobs may lead to wider use of the alloy in the HVACR sector.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the registration of naturally antimicrobial copper alloys as a supplement to standard preventive measures in eliminating specific disease-causing bacteria. Independent laboratory tests have confirmed that copper alloys eliminate more than 99.9 percent of bacterial contamination within two hours of exposure, the report said.

According to Harold Michels, senior vice president, Technology and Technical Services for the Copper Development Association, the findings “pertain to surfaces that people touch, such as doorknobs. But next we will be looking at air conditioning” applications.

In fact, he said some testing is currently underway at the University of South Carolina on the use of copper finned components as opposed to aluminum finned “to see its effect on organisms.”

He said that beyond that, there could be applications for copper in drip pans, drain lines, and possibly some ductwork. Once such research is done and if the results are favorable, the findings will be submitted to the EPA in hopes that the agency will give similar antimicrobial registration for copper in the HVACR sector.

Michels contended issues such as first cost could be offset by increased efficiencies as well as sanitary/health benefits.

“This is an exciting breakthrough for the copper industry as a whole,” says Warren Bartel, senior vice-president and senior advisor for Luvata Group, who described his company as “a specialist in metals and manufacture.”

He said, “We see ourselves playing a key role in providing our customers with the materials they will need to take advantage of the antimicrobial qualities of copper alloys. When considering the cost of preventative measures or treatment for these diseases, copper may likely become the low-cost, environmentally friendly solution.”

In a reference to HVACR, Bartel added, “Now that the EPA has granted copper official status as an antimicrobial agent, we have only scratched the surface of possible copper applications directly targeted at improving public health.”

Harold Michels of Copper Development Association believes that the industry will be looking at air conditioning for recognition of potential antimicrobial properties of copper.


The following statement was included in the EPA registration:

“When cleaned regularly, antimicrobial copper alloy surfaces kill greater than 99.9 percent of (specific) bacteria within two hours, and continue to kill more than 99 percent of (these) bacteria even after repeated contamination. The use of a copper alloy surface is a supplement to and not a substitute for standard infection control practices; users must continue to follow all current infection control practices, including those practices related to cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces. The copper alloy surface material has been shown to reduce microbial contamination, but it does not necessarily prevent cross contamination.”

Warren Bartel of Luvata Group said, “We have only scratched the surface of possible copper applications.”

According to CDA, “Studies show that simply cleaning surface areas does not eliminate all bacteria. Copper alloys, however, continually eliminate bacteria and, unlike surface coatings or additives, the intrinsic antimicrobial properties of copper alloys cannot wear off or be removed.

Homogeneous and solid copper alloys therefore provide a lifetime of efficacy and durability. Copper alloys are the first and only commercially available solid-surface material with EPA public health registration, allowing manufacturers to claim antimicrobial efficacy.”

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Publication date: 05/19/2008

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