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Science shows how dirty coins, currency can get

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By Richard Giedroyc

Would you clean your copper coins with vinegar? How about using toothpaste on your nickel and silver composition coins?

Reaching into a pile of shiny, brand new, clean coins - but not for long if germs have their way.

Reaching into a pile of shiny, brand new, clean coins - but not for long if germs have their way.

Well, in India some people are subscribing to this suggestion. No, they aren’t coin collectors – I hope. For those of you who have followed this column in the past you are going to say, “Here we go again!” There are new studies recently released in India raising the alarm that there are germs on our coins and bank notes.

Arun Arya, a professor at the department of botany at MS University in Vadodara, recently completed a study that confirmed what has been previously concluded from studied in countries around the world – that coins and bank notes carry germs.

“To identify the presence of microorganisms in coins, a test was conducted on 500 coins, out of which 80 were foreign,” Arya said. These coins were mainly collected from eateries. It was then found that a few organisms like E. coli and salmonella had the ability to survive on the surface of coins for up to 11 and nine days respectively.”

The university study included copper-nickel and stainless steel composition coins obtained from roadside food vendors and sweet shops. Arya concluded oily hands were a major contributor to the transfer of organisms from currency to people.

The solution? According to research professor Vinod Patel, “One of the simplest non-destructive ways to clean old copper coins is washing them with a solution of natural white vinegar and iodized salt in clean water.”

Patel explained that if a coin is composed of copper or bronze the coin can be cleansed by applying coconut oil for four to seven days using a soft brush, then washing the coin with water.

Arya added, “If the coin is cleaned in salt water it will lose its shinning and patches of green fungi will begin to appear on it. For nickel and silver coins it is advisable to apply tooth powder using [a] soft brush.”

The study of the horrors of dirty coins and bank notes is not limited to a single study in India. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology recently focused on studying bank notes, but added coins to their study as well. The study identified 78 pathogens carrying fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Their study concluded antibiotic resistant germs were also present.

As was explained earlier in this article, these conclusions have been reached by studies elsewhere. This is not news, but the new studies may cause alarm in India.

An Aug. 17 Asian Age article put the findings into perspective. According to the article, “We have always known that money was dirty — in more ways than one. Some families even have stories of eccentric uncles or aunts who washed money with soap and water and hung them out on a clothesline to dry. And our temples, the advertised abode of gods, have developed the art of cleaning money swiftly and professionally. There are nifty money-cleaning fluids available in the market too. Money laundering is far more common — and respectable — than you think.”

Check out the new 2016 North American Coins and Prices reference book here.

Check out the new 2016 North American Coins and Prices reference book here.

Among the many studies of coins and bank notes is a 2012 study conducted at Oxford University in England that concluded the average bank note carried 26,000 bacteria. Automatic Teller Machines were introduced in Japan during the 1990s that clean bank notes. Since that time technology has been developed where bank notes can be cleaned using heated carbon dioxide that is capable of preserving the holograms and other recently developed security features while washing the money.

The Asian Age article includes the observation: “The ability of bank notes and coins to transfer germs depends on many factors, two of the most important being the climate and the material out of which the note is made. Our oily, sweaty hands and humid climate help in the transmission. But in some studies our bank notes have shown more resistance to transferring germs than other notes, like the Romanian leu, for example.”

News reporting services in India covered the recent studies, however Asian Age was careful to point out other possibly more serious germ carriers. The publication focused on a 2006 British study that concluded “that handbags could be as dirty as the floor of public toilets,” while pointing out how unsanitary keyboards, kitchens, telephones, and pillows may become.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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