Vinyl Gloves - Protection or Poison?

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In response to PVC’s toxic threats, governments and corporations all around the world have passed policies to phase out PVC and switch to safer, healthier PVC-free products.

We explain below the implications of PVC and its adverse effect on both human and environmental health. Despite the overwhelming evidence, vinyl (PVC) disposable gloves are surprisingly still the most commonly used disposable food service glove in the US food industry.

 

Human Health

Phthalates

Up to 50% of disposable vinyl gloves are made up of plasticizers, which make the PVC flexible and soft enough to wear. Often plasticizers contain phthalates and BPA as they are inexpensive.

Phthalate plasticizers can be absorbed through worker’s skin and quickly transfer to, and contaminate food products. Adverse health effects from exposure to BPA and phthalates in US food and occupational settings is estimated to result in $175 billion in healthcare costs**, read more about this here.


Bacteria and Virus permeability & Food Safety Issues

Due to the molecular structure of vinyl disposable gloves, there are associated risks that limit their performance and affect barrier protection. Studies have highlighted the lack of cross-linking of PVC molecules, causing them to separate when flexed or stretched. The effect of this is two fold:

Vinyl & Nitrile Glove Molecular Structure
Linear molecular structure of vinyl & nitrile gloves

  1. Vinyl disposable gloves have poor resistance to stretch and elongation (based on lower tensile strength and elongation tests) than nitrile or latex gloves. Less elasticity and flexibility leads to a poorer fitting glove; with more holes occurring during routine use.  Dangerously, these holes are often at the microscopic level and are an unknown but real food safety risk.
  2. Increased permeability to bacteria and virus. This increases the risk of cross-contamination for both the glove user and the products they are handling.

Environmental impacts

The U.S. Green Building Council, the nation's largest green building organization, released a report on PVC building materials. The report makes clear that PVC is not a healthy building material.

A proper accounting of the human health impacts of PVC across its lifecycle, including disposal issues and occupational exposure, finds that PVC leads to the release of dangerous quantities of dioxin and other carcinogens. The report authors found that, "When we add end of life with accidental landfill fires and backyard burning, the additional risk of dioxin emissions puts PVC consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts..."

In reaction to both the health and environmental threats of PVC, below are some of the changes to be adopted by governments and companies around the world to switch to safer, healthier PVC-free products.

  1. Japan has banned PVC gloves for food handling due to the well documented adverse effects on health.
  2. The European Union (2008) have banned the use of DEHP in food service gloves out of concern that the chemical will leach into food and be ingested.
  3. Phthalates were banned in toys in the United States in 2008 and restrictions or bans have been placed on phthalates in PVC toys in the entire European Union.
  4. Sweden first proposed restrictions on PVC use in 1995 and is working toward discontinuing all PVC uses.
  5. In Spain, over 60 cities have been declared PVC-free.
  6. Germany has banned the disposal of PVC in landfills.
  7. Healthcare institutions around the world, including Kaiser Permanente in the US, are reducing or have removed PVC and phthalates. Hospitals are particularly concerned as several government agencies, including the FDA, has concluded that children undergoing certain medical procedures may represent a population at increased risk for the effects of DEHP.

Despite all the evidence against the use of vinyl disposable gloves, why are vinyl gloves still the predominant food handling glove used in the US?  Simply, due to cost - potentially at the expense of health to the glove wearer, the consumer, and the environment.

Ironically, innovative disposable supply companies such as Eagle Protect PBC a certified B Corporation and Public Benefit Corporation have products and processes that can keep PVC out of the food industry for little or no added cost! 

 

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Steve Ardagh author and Eagle Protect Founder president and CEO

Written by: Steve Ardagh, President & Founder

** Full details and references for all the information included here are taken from the Glove Hazard Analysis & Mitigation Strategies Research Study conducted by Barry Michaels. White Papers of this study are available upon request.

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