Switzerland - Fish Don´t Like Copper

May 2009 – Copper is a material frequently used in roofs and facades. Water flowing off buildings into surrounding soil or nearby streams can pollute the ground or surface water with copper corrosion products which have toxic effects on aquatic life. The Swiss aquatic research institute Eawag has made significant contributions towards recognising this problem and indicating solutions.

Michele Steiner evaluated the efficiency of a variety of granular filter materials in the Eawag experimental facility. The material found best in the testing is now used to purify copper-polluted roof wastewaters, for instance in the School of Law building of the University of Zurich which was redesigned by Santiago Calatravo (see photo at upper right).

From Doctoral Candidate to Entrepreneur
“The simplest solution of the copper problem is obvious:”, says Michele Steiner, “stop large-scale use of copper and zinc on roofs and facades.” However there are locations where this is not possible and buildings on which copper is expressly specified by the owner or architect. Run-off from large-area copper surfaces must be filtered to ensure compliance with today’s environmental water regulations. For this reason, the Eawag research institute sought a simple way of removing copper from roof run-off water. After completing a joint doctoral thesis under the direction of Prof. Markus Boller, Steiner saw a chance to market the practical application of his know-how. Working with his company wst21 in conjunction with a construction contractor, he developed a collection shaft system with replaceable filter cartridges (patent pending).

Like Steiner, an increasing number of doctoral candidates and other researchers are daring the plunge into the free market. Eawag provides effective support to endeavours of this type. Accordingly, Euwag is also a member of “glaTec”, an association founded in Dübendorf / Switzerland as a business incubator by Swiss Federal Laboratory Empa to assist innovative young entrepreneurs in the sectors of materials and environmental technologies. 


Goose and Steiner explaining the system.