Interestingly, TransLinnk CEO Kevin Desmond refers to the use of copper as a disinfectant as an “emerging technology,” despite its long history of use.
TransLink looks to expand the use of copper
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
In November of 2020, Vancouver-based mining company Teck Resources announced a pilot project in partnership with Vancouvers’ TransLink to test the efficacy of copper on high-touch surfaces. The project, as reported by the Dailyhive, was initially set to run for four weeks on two buses and two SkyTrain cars. The goal was to harness the natural antimicrobial effects of the metal in order to limit COVID transmission. Project directors had hopes of sharing any positive data with other transportation services. TransLink initially aimed to swab the copper surfaces twice a week to verify ongoing efficacy.
In the pilot release statement, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond acknowledged that this would be the first such project in North America and that it came after careful examination aimed to increase rider safety. Interestingly, Desmond refers to the use of copper as a disinfectant as an “emerging technology,” despite its long history of use. This may be on account of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Teck Resources’ more contemporary studies on the use of copper. Dr. Marthe Charles of VCH is quoted as saying that: “This project builds on preceding research and will increase our understanding of the effectiveness of copper in killing organisms on frequently-touched surfaces.”
However, the use of copper and its antibacterial powers have been documented by outside sources and are backed with historic uses and precedence. The Smithsonian Magazine reports that the earliest recorded medical use of copper occurred in 1700 B.C. by an Egyptian doctor. Other ancient uses of copper included copper drinking vessels to prevent diarrhea and inserting copper shavings into battle wounds to mitigate infections.
In the same article, a microbiology and immunology professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, Michael G. Schmidt describes copper as a “molecular oxygen grenade” due to its atomic makeup. Microbiology researcher at the University of Southampton in England, Bill Keevil explains that the free electron in copper’s outer shell allows for “oxidation-reduction reactions.” Additionally, microbes in contact with copper are assaulted with ions that destroying DNA and RNA that would otherwise mutate.
5 months after the project began, Teck Resources released a statement revealing that 99.9 percent of bacteria tested were killed on the copper used. Teck indicates that they funded the first phase of the pilot and that’s its results were found using a combination of lab and real-world transit use data. They also indicate that the two most effective copper products were copper decals and a “copper nickel plasma spray.”
Given the efficacy, as witnessed by both independent researchers and Teck, Vancouver residents may be interested in TransLink’s’ announcement to extend the use of copper in their vehicles. In announcing this expansion, the Dailyhive notes that this expansion will also be funded by Teck—likely as part of their aforementioned second phase. Local testing will occur with the assistance of the University of British Columbia and VCH.