Almost everyone in the glove industry heard the news back in April. Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, petitioned the FDA to take drastic steps to protect individuals with latex allergies. They called for a complete ban on all cornstarch powdered medical gloves, as well as a ban on all natural latex rubber medical gloves.
This is the second petition by Public Citizen to ban cornstarch powdered gloves. Over a decade ago, the FDA rejected their petition, citing that a ban would not address exposure to natural latex allergens from medical gloves with high levels of natural latex proteins. They also felt that a ban might compromise the availability of high quality medical gloves and greatly increase the annual costs.
In this new petition, Public Citizen addresses each of the FDA’s prior reasons for not banning cornstarch powdered gloves. They agreed with the FDA’s 1999 conclusion that simply banning cornstarch powder from latex gloves would not address the serious risk to patients and healthcare workers already allergic to latex. So in this new petition, they call for a ban on all latex medical gloves, powdered or not.
But will the FDA really ban all latex medical gloves?
Not if Malaysia manufacturers and many glove users in the U.S. have anything to say about it. Malaysia is the largest exporter and producer of rubber gloves, supplying 60-65% of the global supply. Ninety percent of the glove makers’ output is medical and examination grade gloves. So even as they scramble to transition more of their production from latex gloves to nitrile gloves due to skyrocketing natural rubber latex raw material costs, they continue working hard to protect the strong base of latex gloves in demand here in the US.
Based on market demand, we can see powdered gloves disappearing. But there will likely still be a large place in the market for low-protein powder-free latex medical gloves, especially where fine finger dexterity is critical and it is known that the patient and healthcare workers involved do not have a latex allergy. There have been significant improvements in nitrile glove material, making them comparable to latex when tested for puncture resistance and gross dexterity. But when it comes to fine finger dexterity, latex is still king. Some surgeons will likely still demand powder-free latex surgical gloves. And until studies show that even low-protein latex gloves can lead to latex allergy, there will be boxes of powder free latex medical gloves on hospital shelves.
The FDA is expected to respond to Public Citizen’s petition in the coming weeks. Then we’ll all know if latex medical gloves will be regulated out of existence by the government.
What do you think? Will the FDA ban powdered medical gloves, as well as all latex medical gloves? Should they?