Study shows copper’s bacteria and virus killing power on public transit

Copper price has been weighed down by possible policy tightening in some major economies and rising global coronavirus cases which could drag on recovery. (Image: Teck)

A collaborative cross-Canadian partnership between infection control researchers, transit authorities and private industry has demonstrated the effectiveness of antimicrobial copper to reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses in public spaces.

The results of a successfully completed, one-year study, led by the medical microbiology research team at Vancouver Coastal Health and hosted by TransLink and Toronto Transit Commission, found that select copper products on public transit can eliminate up to 99.9% of bacteria.

This study was the first of its kind in North America and was fully funded by Teck as part of its Copper & Health program. The study evaluated the efficacy of three copper-based solutions for reducing the transmission of bacteria and viruses on high-touch surfaces on public transportation.

“Copper’s unique antimicrobial properties make it ideal for use in busy public spaces such as transit systems. Teck is proud to partner with leading researchers on this study, which continues to demonstrate that copper is a critical tool to help stop the spread of infection and make our communities safer,” Teck CEO Jonathan Price said in a media statement.

The solutions tested included thermal coated copper surface layers, copper alloys, and copper decals; both in-situ for bacterial testing and in-lab for virus testing. Test results showed that select copper products can eliminate up to 99.9% of bacteria on public transit and 99.9% of viruses in a laboratory setting within two hours of contact.

The medical microbiology team from Vancouver Coastal Health, supported by Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, conducted tests every two months over the course of a year, analyzing samples from both copper and non-copper surfaces on public transit.

This phase of the study was critical in determining the long-term viability of copper as a material for high-touch surfaces on public transportation, with particular emphasis on its antimicrobial properties and potential for infection control in public settings.

Researchers tested for virus-killing capabilities, including surrogates for covid-19 and noroviruses.

The trial tested three types of registered products including thermal coated copper surface layers, copper alloys, and copper decals on handles and exit doors on buses, streetcars and trains.

Samples were analyzed every two months, from copper surfaces as well as non-copper surfaces on transit by Vancouver Coastal Health’s medical microbiology team, supported by Mount Sinai Hospital/University Health Network in Toronto and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The project is the result of a partnership between Teck Resources Limited, Toronto Transit Commission, TransLink, Vancouver Coastal Health, Mount Sinai Hospital/University Health Network, the Coalition for Community and Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR), UBC Department of Materials Engineering, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, and Westech Cleaning Audit Systems.

The trial follows preceding studies conducted by the Infection Prevention and Control team at Vancouver Coastal Health that have shown copper to be highly durable and effective at killing bacteria in laboratory and healthcare settings.