Virus-killing copper is being installed on high-touch transit surfaces in a test to see how effective these products are at destroying viruses and bacteria on public transit.

The donor-funded pilot project is part of a two-phase study that will install various copper-based products and a protective coating called organosilane on SkyTrain and buses, specifically on two trolley buses and two SkyTrain cars on the Expo and Millennium Lines.

This project is the first of its kind in North America and is the result of a partnership between TransLink, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, Teck Resources Limited (Teck), Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction, and the University of British Columbia.

“Our Foundation plays a vital role in funding innovation through medical research in BC. Donor funding has played a role – here in BC and globally – to accelerate our understanding of the COVID-19 virus and its transmission,” says Angela Chapman, President & CEO, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. “This project will leverage the expertise of Vancouver Coastal Health’s Infection Prevention & Control team to determine the public health benefits of copper in reducing transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses. We are grateful for the partnership of Teck and TransLink to make this very special ‘made in BC’ research project possible.”

The initial phase will run for four weeks and is fully funded by Teck through a donation to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation as part of its Copper & Health program.

Studies conducted by the Infection Prevention & Control team at VCH that has shown copper to be effective at killing bacteria and is durable over a one-year period. Copper alloy surfaces are naturally antimicrobial with self-sanitizing properties, and recently has shown to destroy up to 99.9 per cent of bacteria and viruses within four hours.

Organosilane is a wipe-on coating that provides long-lasting protection against damaging microbes such as bacteria, mold, mildew and many viruses. When used in tandem with good hygiene and cleaning protocols, copper and organosilanes can help inhibit the buildup and growth of viruses and bacteria.

“This project will increase our understanding of the effectiveness of copper in killing organisms on frequently-touched surfaces,” says Dr. Marthe Kenny Charles, Medical Microbiologist, VCH. “Positive findings will then be used to study the impact of copper on bacteria and viruses such as COVID-19 and norovirus. This holds future infection control benefits not only for the public in their travels but for health care workers and patients who navigate their medical journey at Vancouver Coastal Health and beyond.”

The results of this pilot could have wide-reaching impacts for infection prevention for the transit industry and other industries that rely on shared public spaces.

“We’re proud to be the first transit agency in North America to pilot this industry-leading technology and I look forward to working closely with our project partners,” says Kevin Desmond, CEO, TransLink. “The risk of COVID-19 transmission on transit remains extremely low and this initiative will only bolster our comprehensive cleaning protocols which are already in place. Any findings from this pilot project will be shared with our fellow transit agency colleagues and other industries which may be able to use this emerging technology.”

“We are proud to be working with all the partners on this important pilot project to expand the use of antimicrobial copper in high-traffic public areas and prevent infections,” says Don Lindsay, President and CEO, Teck. “Through the Copper & Health program, Teck has been partnering with health care professionals, academia and others for years to help make communities safer. This pilot builds on those efforts at a critical time as the world works to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

You can fund future innovative research projects like this by making a donation today to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.