Steve Ardagh is the founder and CEO of Eagle Protect, a leading glove company. He is known as “The Glove Guy” for his food safety leadership.

In the glove world, the toxic chemical of the moment – phthalates – is a crucial ingredient often found in vinyl gloves. It is estimated to be used by two-thirds of the 200,000 quick service restaurants (QSR) in the U.S. 

In a recent open letter to the glove industry, “The Glove Guy” called on his colleagues to stop selling vinyl gloves because of long-term contamination issues of phthalates to food and glove wearers.

He wrote: “In 2018, my company Eagle Protect stopped selling vinyl gloves after we saw mounting research about their food safety implications, adverse effects on glove user health, and concerns over the environmental impact of toxic pollution during manufacture and disposal.

“Six years down the track, I am urging you to do the same — stop selling vinyl gloves,” he said.

“I think you already know the story,” he continues. “Toxic chemicals known as phthalates could be present in the vinyl (PVC) gloves you supply. Plasticizers, the most common of which are phthalates, make PVC flexible and make up to 41 percent of a glove’s weight. Phthalates can leach from vinyl gloves into food and the skin of the glove wearer, causing long-standing systemic toxicity.”

“The most recent consumer report (2024) tested grocery stores and fast foods and found phthalates in almost every food item of the 100 tested, often at high levels,” he continues.  “Multiple vinyl glove research studies over two decades, including this most recent report, highlight their contamination risks.”

Among the facts that caused him to call for a ban on vinyl gloves:

1.          Phthalates leach into food from food preparation gloves. Consumers are then contaminated when food is ingested. Vinyl glove phthalates also contaminate glove wearers through skin absorption. Health problems have been shown to develop slowly, sometimes over decades, with long-standing vinyl glove use or food consumption, particularly fast food.

2.          QSR food has 24 to 40 percent higher levels of phthalates than home foods, which are believed to be in part due to glove use.

3.          With environmental, social, and governance goals becoming ingrained into business practices, the direct and complete environmental impact of glove use is being considered. Numerous highly hazardous chemicals are utilized or released during vinyl gloves’ manufacture, use, and disposal. Production starts with chlorine, which requires asbestos, mercury, or PFAS, depending on the technology. 

Ardagh continued to share his reasoning and research that caused him to call for the Vinyl glove ban:

Consequences Far and Wide
The health consequences linked to phthalate exposure in vinyl gloves can be considerable and include certain cancers, neurotoxicity, endocrine (hormonal) system disruption, infertility and birth defects, liver impairment, heightened susceptibility to asthma and thyroid disorders, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

In the U.S., the annual cost of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) is estimated at $340 billion (more than 2 percent of GDP). Phthalates are now banned or restricted from use in various products worldwide, including vinyl disposable gloves. When phthalates were banned in Japan, a 33 percent drop in EDC exposures was noted, indicating that the continued usage of phthalates in vinyl gloves may amount to several billion dollars in healthcare and productivity costs in the U.S. Since January 2022, the state of Maine has banned DEHP and other phthalates from disposable gloves and food packaging.

Self-regulation is the only way
A glaring gap in FDA regulations relating to imported gloves – 90 percent of the U.S. supply – means it is up to glove suppliers to ensure the gloves they sell are truly safe, not just rely on manufacturers’ paperwork. The unregulated glove industry was exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and described as “an industry riddled with fraud. My advice is simple: vinyl gloves are neither food-safe nor safe for the glove wearer. They should be banned. Your due diligence of the products you sell could save lives. What must you do?:

1 Understand, audit, and test the toxins in the gloves you supply. Are you prepared to cast a blind eye and continue supplying gloves known to contaminate food and the consumer? 

2 Review your glove supply chain, especially quality control and ethical sourcing certifications, to eliminate phthalates and harmful chemicals from your supply chain.

3 Review your nitrile glove supply chain as a safer material for food service industry gloves. 

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