THAT COPPER SINK in the doctor's office might not be just for looks, according to independent laboratory tests and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Copper Development Association (CDA) announced in March that copper, brass, and bronze have been added to the EPA's register of disinfectants. Copper is the first solid-surface material on the list, which includes disinfectants and pesticides against body-fluid– and blood-borne pathogens as well as Staphylococcus aureus, the cause of staph infections; Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli; and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause pneumonia.

The findings—from an independent, EPA-sanctioned laboratory—show that copper can kill more than 99.9 percent of certain bacteria and continues to do so even after repeated contamination. With proper cleaning already standard in hospital environments, copper can prevent cross-contamination in hospital patients.

Unlike other treatments on the market, copper is inherently antimicrobial and thus requires no special coatings or finishes. It is also an ecologically friendly material when properly mined and produced, unlike some of the harsh chemicals currently used to keep surfaces antimicrobial.

The CDA sees potential use for copper in many hospital locations, including door and furniture hardware, I.V. stands, sinks, and workstations—the kinds of places that doctors, nurses, and patients come into contact with most frequently.