(update, 3-25-14. Fixed the link to the article being described and added link to PDF of paper available from Research Gate)
I posted an article in the past discussing the benefits of copper as an antimicrobial agent, but the authors had a huge conflict of interest. However, I still found the idea of using copper as an antimicrobial agent very interesting and decided to post about this article (PDF available here). This review article from 2011 is published in a reliable journal (Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology) and details the advantages and disadvantages of copper use. Though it is a bit dated, the general principles seem to have stayed consistent. Authors Jutta Elguindi, Xiuli Hao and Yanbing Lin summarize the importance of copper as well as the consequences that increased copper mining may have.
Copper is used as an effective antimicrobial agent in a variety of settings such as agriculture, hospitals and food production and processing plants. The increased use of copper calls for an increase in copper mining and recycling, and although this may be economically beneficial, the environmental consequences need to be researched. There has been an increase in disinfectant-resistant and copper ion-tolerant pathogens, but copper alloys have been found to kill some of those microorganisms.
Unfortunately, this article is behind a paywall, but is an easy read and provides a great summary for those interested. It also discusses suggestions for cleaning up contaminated sites and soils that have been published by other researchers.
Sabreen Aulakh is a fourth-year undergraduate research assistant in Eisen lab. She is currently working on a microbial aquarium project, surveying microbes found in indoor aquariums on the UC Davis campus.