Battling Bacteria with a Copper Pipe

February 1, 1999


NEW YORK, NY— Scientists may have discovered a convenient way to combat deadly E. coli bacteria. According to the Center of Applied Microbiology and Research in England, the disease-causing bacteria cannot survive for more than a few hours on copper surfaces.

The early findings, says Dr. Dale Peters, vice president for the Copper Development Association, may lead to a significant way to contain outbreaks of food- and waterborne disease around the world. "Tens of thousands of cases of bacterial gastroenteritis and numerous deaths may be prevented," he says.

While Dr. Peters called for further, peer-reviewed research into whether copper piping can reduce or eliminate dangerous E. coli in drinking water, previous research has already shown copper plumbing can inhibit other strains of the bacteria.

That copper alloys can inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi has been known for thousands of years and is alluded to in the records of early civilizations. More recently, researchers found poliovirus, Legionnaire's disease and other microorganisms are inhibited by copper plumbing tube. In hospitals, copper-base alloys, such as brass, are used for doorknobs and push plates because they have been shown to help reduce cross-contamination.

The survival of E. coli on work surfaces used in food preparation can increase the risk of cross-contamination, warns CDA President Robert Payne. He calls the potential benefit of using copper for food preparation surfaces to contain E. coli contamination very exciting.

Symptoms of E. coli poisoning include severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea that may become bloody, and fever that can reach 102 oF. The illness may last one to eight days. If you think you have E. coli food poisoning, see a doctor.

Thoroughly cooking all meat, washing hands carefully before and after touching raw food, and keeping countertops and utensils clean can help reduce your risk. The continuing independent study is funded by the International Copper Association.