I don’t believe I’ve ever tried to pull the wool over the eyes of my readers. I’ve been upfront in stating I work for a disinfectant manufacturer, and I’ve been diligent in trying to ensure the topics and content I include in my blogs are educational and not promoting of my company’s products. My belief, is that in developing the best cleaning and disinfection protocols - regardless of whether it’s for our homes, our offices, our schools, hospitals or even barns - that education, discussion, debate and even the occasional agree to disagree stalemate helps us look at the information laid out in front of us, evaluate it and draw the conclusions that are right for us and that we are comfortable and confident in implementing.
There are always two sides to every story. In science, the data can and in many cases is often presented in a way to draw conclusions that we want the reader to see. As a reader, it’s up to us to read between the lines; to ensure that both sides of the story are being presented equally and draw our conclusions after looking at all of the facts. For that life lesson, I’ll be forever grateful for my Wildlife Ecology teacher from university.
Why do I bring this up? Well, there was an article published in the Toronto Sun indicating there is a way to beat the bugs found in our public transit systems. I’m not going to deny, there have been a number of articles published talking about studies looking at the level of bacteria or viruses found on public surfaces. Heck, I’ve blogged about some of them: toilets, airplanes, security bins. The reason for my sharing is that we need to be aware of our surroundings. We need to know that yes, our world includes bugs, many of which can cause harm via infections. We need to be reminded that we need to wash our hands, and we need to be reminded that cleaning surfaces to remove dirt, grime and pathogens that have been deposited during the day is an important part of life.
The article in question is an opinion article. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Someone who works for a company that develops and sells copper coatings for environmental surfaces is going to provide their opinion on how their product can be used to improve the lives of TTC riders. According to the author of the article, “Copper immediately begins killing bacteria and stops it spreading. The antimicrobial power of copper never stops, so a copper coated surface that is new or 100 years old, will be equally antimicrobial.” The author further suggests that “Premier Ford, who has vowed to upload the TTC to the province might consider investing in this made-in-Canada technology to protect Torontonians.”
Copper and other coatings have been investigated for some time as potential aids in reducing the bioburden of bacteria in hospitals, where the concern of picking up a deadly infection is very concerning and very real. In fact, in 2013 I did a “Disinfectant Chemistry Report Card on Copper and Silver Antimicrobial Coatings”. Governmental agencies and microbiology experts have been discussing and debating for years over what testing should be conducted in order to determine efficacy of antimicrobial coatings. In fact in 2008, the US EPA proposed a protocol assessing the bactericidal activity of 21 different copper and copper alloy surfaces. Those surfaces can be registered with the claim to “kill 99.9% of bacteria within two hours”. For reference, many disinfectants kill to the same level in 10 – 30 seconds.
I’m not saying that antimicrobial surfaces do not have a place. What I am hoping to get across is that they are not the silver bullet. Yes, they have the ability to kill and reduce bacteria, but what about viruses? The outbreaks that impact our cities with greater frequency and with greater impact to our life are viral based (SARS, Influenza, Norovirus etc).
To highlight some of the “holes” in the use of copper coatings, I wanted to share a recently published journal article that showed a meta-analysis of the published literature on the use of copper and its alloys. The authors reviewed 257 studies and concluded that there is no clear evidence of the clinical benefit of copper surfaces. While copper surfaces have demonstrated antimicrobial activity, the implications of this activity in healthcare settings are still unclear, and no published study has been able to show a clear effect on healthcare associated infections.
Another tidbit that we should find interesting is that, while copper does have a continued ability to reduce bacterial levels, there are factors that can inhibit the killing action of copper such as antioxidants, organic soil, or the repeated use of cleaning products. I think we can agree, that with the numbers of TTC riders each and every day, soil and dirt will be deposited on the copper surfaces and this soil will need to be removed with cleaning products.
So what’s my opinion? I’m not going to count my copper pennies yet. I think there is some interesting data to show that there could be some benefit to using antimicrobial surfaces like copper. However, their use and impact in reducing the spread of infections is not clear, and regardless of their use, we will dirty the areas we inhabit. This means we’ll always need to clean, which as some data is supporting, can impact or reduce the effectiveness of copper.