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Climber’s chalk coronavirus study traces back to Idaho

U.K. research initiative looks at coronavirus on chalky surfaces
Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 9:41 AM MDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 12:50 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - An ongoing research initiative conducted by researchers at De Montfort University in Leicester, England traces back to a co-owner of Gemstone Climbing Center in Twin Falls.

The research initiative is commissioned by the Association of British Climbing Walls, and is looking at how climber’s chalk could be useful in reducing the risk of spread or infection of coronavirus on plastic surfaces.

Outside Gemstone Climbing Center in Twin Falls, ID.
Outside Gemstone Climbing Center in Twin Falls, ID.(Garrett Ht | KMVT)

Campbell, who along with being an owner of climbing center, is also a fish farmer and has background in biochemistry. He had his eyes set on climber’s chalk and coronavirus in April as he was looking at possible answers to questions from those in the climbing community regarding the safety of reopening during the pandemic.

“Virus’s have only a very specific pH range in which they’re virulent,” Campbell said. “As a fish farmer and as a I biochemist, I knew that you could change, you could destroy cells at higher pH.”

In his quest, Campbell began doing experiments measuring pH and studying how chalk impacts the virus.

“We had kids go work out and come down and get sweaty. We’d put chalk on their hands and found their pH was going up almost 10.”

Jesse Clark is an instructor at Gemstone Climbing. In July, Clark contacted KMVT regarding Campbell's research.
Jesse Clark is an instructor at Gemstone Climbing. In July, Clark contacted KMVT regarding Campbell's research.(Garrett Hottle | KMVT)

In an article published in April by the Climbing Business Journal, Campbell explained some of his research and asked further questions that could perhaps be answered by an organization with a larger capability to do the research.

“After that article, I received one telephone call from a gentleman by the name of Jeremy Wilson,” he said. “He’s a representative of an association called British climbing walls in England. They thought it was worthwhile.”

Wilson is a member of an Association of British Climbing Walls working group, tasked with researching the science behind the virus and climbing.

“At the start of the Coronavirus Crisis, the ABC (Association of British Climbing Walls) set up working groups to support climbing walls through the crisis. David and Robert Stevens from The Warehouse Climbing Wall, Gloucester approached Rich Emerson, ABC Chair as they had a relationship with a world-leading research team in De Montfort University,” reads a July press release from the The Association of British Climbing Walls. “Rich spoke with Jeremy Wilson from The Lakeland Climbing Centre, leader of one of the ABC working group responsible for researching the science behind the virus and climbing.”

To understand the potential impact of chalk on the virus the study at De Montfort University was commissioned.

“We needed to understand the potential impact of chalk on the virus as there were some concerns within the climbing community around how chalk on holds may act as a reservoir of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.” reads the press release. “Between us, we commissioned the team at De Montfort University to undertake the research, led by Dr Katie Laird (Head of the Infectious Disease Research Group), Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar (Virologist) and Dr Lucy Owen (Postdoctoral Researcher). The team admit it was novel research and it took some time to set up the test method protocols.”

The preliminary results of the initiative utilizing a model coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2 have yielded some promising results for Campbell and those in the climbing community.

“The presence of infectious virus on a plastic surface dusted with chalk was monitored over the course of one hour. The results indicated that the amount of infectious virus was reduced by around 99% immediately upon contact with the chalky surfaces,” reads the press release. “By comparison, the control test where no chalk dust was present, showed only a slight decline in infectious virus over these time periods.”

While promising, the research is still ongoing and should be not be used to form any conclusions. In a press release that followed the initial results, ABC stressed it should not be used to form in firm conclusions and await until the research is complete.

“Following the press release on the 24th July 2020, the ABC and DMU would like to clarify that whilst the initial results are extremely exciting, the research is not yet complete and the full report will be published next week. Dr Katie Laird confirmed the research does show some promising results but firm conclusions should wait until the research is complete,” the press release reads.

In a statement Rick Emerson, the chairman of ABC, said they await the formal scientific report with anticipation, which is expected to be published in August.

Copyright 2020 KMVT/KSVT. All rights reserved.

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