Blind World Magazine

Pen kills germs, and it's made by the Blind.

Greensboro News Record, North Carolina.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006.

He was having one of those allergy bouts that morphs into a nasty sinus infection, when Keith Jordan watched the receptionist at a Battleground urgent care do what the Felix Ungar in all of us so longs to do.

She came around the counter with a Clorox wipe, and cleaned every one of the ballpoint pens dangling on chains from the patient sign-in sheets.

"I just looked at her," said Jordan, marketing director for Greensboro's Industries of the Blind, "and I said, 'Boy, have I got something for you.' "

Does he ever. In what may be the most significant new product announced in the Lee Street factory's 73-year history, an antimicrobial ballpoint pen has hit the market, using silver ion technology on the barrel of the pen to kill not just bacteria and microorganisms such as the SARS virus, but also yeast, molds and fungi.

Under the Skilcraft label, the 50-cent pen has been picked up by the U.S. military, and is now available to the public. Made from parts manufactured in New Jersey and assembled in Greensboro, this is the first in a line of anti-germ pens that may take the low-profile 200-employee Industries of the Blind to a different level.

"We're not just the broom factory anymore," said Mike Burge, executive director of the operation, where 85 percent of the workers are legally blind, and have for years made brooms, mops and other household items. "This pen is a product that has real social value. And it really is leading-edge technology instead of 'bleeding-edge technology,' which is where blind agencies like us have found ourselves in the past."

The EconoGard ballpoint, to be joined this summer by more deluxe rollerball and gel pens using the same antimicrobial material, is based on chemical knowledge that goes back to the ancient world. Roman soldiers carried silver coins to place in pools of water before drinking -- the thinking being that silver purified water.

Today, antimicrobial polymer, in which silver is ground into a zeolite powder and compounded into the mold, has become the standard in Japan for counters and other surfaces, but is just taking off on our shores.

Here, surgical instruments now use the silver ion technology because it kills a feared hospital enemy, staph. And here and there, the antimicrobial stamp can be seen on surfaces such as the kiddie seats in carts at stores like Home Depot, because ... well, you don't know where these things have been. Nor do you want to.

Suffice it to say that public health studies show that high-traffic areas such as teachers' desks, computer keyboards and telephones are virtual Petri dishes for germs, with a typical 6,000 bacteria per square inch.

Antimicrobial surfaces don't replace disinfectants and hand sanitizers, but in a sense, they go one better. The technology patented by Massachusetts-based AgIon -- you'll recall the "Ag" symbol for silver from your high school chemistry periodic table of the elements -- never wears off and never stops killing germs, including salmonella and E. coli.

With the federal General Services Administration getting interested in the pen rolling off the line in Greensboro, the Industries of the Blind appears to be on the cusp of its next success -- this at a company that is already producing the springs for Humvees and an infrared technology helmet cover designed to reduce the risk of friendly fire casualties for GIs.

And you know, with gas at $2.75, a yawning trade deficit and fear about the ozone, the vision at 920 W. Lee St. reminds us: There are still great things ahead, right here in the U.S.A.

Interested in the EconoGard pens? Contact 1-800-909-7086 or

Contact Lorraine Ahearn at 373-7334 or

End of article.

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