News & Events

Vinyl medical gloves: what are the concerns?

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
January/February 2006 Edition

Question: I’m working at a hospital that is searching for an alternative to latex gloves. Vendors are pointing us in the direction of polyvinyl chloride gloves. Is this really an improvement? Any suggestions?

Answer: Vinyl, also referred to as polyvinyl chloride or PVC, is one of the materials commonly used to make examination gloves. Concerns about vinyl exam gloves can reflect three areas of the glove’s life: manufacturing, use and disposal.

Concerns about manufacturing vinyl products include 1) that PVC is produced from vinyl chloride monomer, a very toxic substance that is a known human carcinogen and 2) that dioxin, another likely human carcinogen and a persistent bioaccumulative toxic substance (PBT), can be emitted as an unintended byproduct of PVC production.

While using vinyl gloves, two things to consider include the following:

  • A number of studies suggest that PVC medical gloves are not as robust a barrier to bloodborne pathogens as other gloves. Since the primary reason for wearing medical gloves is for barrier protection, one must carefully consider the barrier performance in selecting gloves.
  • Although there is little evidence of a specific health hazard to the wearer of vinyl gloves, the literature suggests that in rare instances there may be allergic contact dermatitis reactions to certain additives in the PVC plastic.

When gloves are disposed, many end up in waste incinerators. At this stage a concern is that under certain typical incinerator conditions, incineration of PVC can result in the formation of dioxins (the same family of chemicals described above). It is possible to imagine that if vinyl gloves were land-filled, plasticizers could leach out under some conditions, although the Sustainable Hospitals Program (SHP) staff has never seen any studies documenting this.

The SHP has two online fact sheets on Selecting Medical Gloves that outline steps for making an informed choice of gloves. Basically, a facility should define who the glove is protecting, what is being protected against (e.g. blood and body fluids, chemicals, chemotherapy drugs, et cetera), and how long the glove is worn. Once this baseline is defined, the hospital can work with manufacturers or vendors to obtain gloves that have been tested and demonstrated as effective barriers for the specific hazards. You can see the SHP fact sheets on glove selection at the following links:

More information, including references, is also available on the SHP Web site at: