- As Chile’s giant copper mines are struggling to keep workers healthy, a local laboratory is testing the use of tiny particles of copper in disinfectants.
- Aintech, which is based in Santiago, has the support of Chile’s mining minister.
- But experts say they are unsure of the safety and effectiveness of using copper against Covid-19.
As Chile’s giant copper mines battle to keep workers healthy in the Covid-19
pandemic, a laboratory in the country is touting the use of tiny specks of the
metal to contain the spread among the general population.
Santiago-based Aintech says its products are the first to make use of
copper nanoparticles in disinfectants to kill and prevent viruses and bacteria
One product is an alcohol spray that can be used on shoes or
face masks. The other is for hard surfaces whose effects purportedly last a
It’s the latest application for a metal that’s mostly used
in wiring but whose ability to kill microorganisms is a selling point for new
household and industrial products. Copper is now used to coat everything from
gym equipment to cages at salmon farms. Chilean copper producer Codelco has
promoted using the metal in hospitals, airports and even socks.
Aintech’s customers include the Santiago bus system, a local
football club and the country’s second-largest copper mine, Collahuasi. Mining
Minister Baldo Prokurica has jumped on board, using the products to clean his
While the company has plans to sell its cleaning products
abroad, for now they are only being used in Chile.
But does it work?
But an international roll-out may encounter wariness by
regulators, given little is known about the long-term health consequences of
people breathing in nanoparticles, according to Dr. Michael G. Schmidt, a microbiology and immunology
professor at the Medical University of South Carolina.
“I am a strong proponent of copper being continuously
antimicrobial and using it in specific solutions, but I think this is a
technology that’s not ready for this epidemic,” he said.
Vittorio Stacchetti, co-founder of Aintech, said the company
has conducted several studies at Italian lab Merieux NutriSciences that prove
the product’s effectiveness. There’s no proof particles are dangerous to humans
because the copper concentration is so low, he said, adding that Chile’s
Institute of Public Health has approved the product and is processing its registration.
“What happens is that we are talking about
very, very small particles,” he said. “These get into the
microporosities of all the surfaces and they are fixed there.”