By Fred Weiner, Dentist in Chicago
Article One of a Seven Part Series
Although there has been much research about the harmful effects of materials like latex, plastic, and vinyl, the public is still far too unaware of the dangers of these materials that they use everyday. I, Fred Weiner, am a dentist in Chicago and have published several articles about these dangers and potential solutions two years ago. I have decided to revisit the issue in more detail to increase awareness. This is the first article in a seven part series outlining the basic make-ups of latex and vinyl and what exactly makes them so harmful to the everyday consumer, particularly healthcare workers, mothers and their children.
In its original form, latex is a sap-like fluid produced by over 12,000 plants, ranging from the dandelion to milkweed. Scientists can than make the liquid latex into a hydrocarbon polymer, or natural rubber, to make products like dentist gloves, pacifiers, baby bottles and balloons.
Although an all-natural substance, latex is actually the source of some serious side effects. The most common side effect is Natural Rubber Latex allergy, often referred to as NRL or Type-1 allergy. NRL is a systematic reaction to the proteins found in latex. Type IV, on the other hand, is a delayed reaction to the processing chemicals and occurs between 48 hours and 96 hours after initial exposure. The symptoms of NRL include hives, sneezing, cramps, headaches, and asthma. Some people have even more serious reactions, including anaphylactic shock.
The reason why some have NRL and some do not is unknown, but research has shown that those with more exposure to latex are far more likely to have symptoms. Those most likely to have NRL are health care workers, with 8%-17% suffering from the allergy, and children who need multiple surgeries, particularly for spina bifida, with up to 68% at risk.
Latex gloves that contain powder are particularly dangerous, as they enable more latex protein to reach the skin, as described by the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH further explains that when professionals change their gloves such powder, and thus latex proteins, enter the air and can then be inhaled by medical workers and patients alike.
Because of these harmful effects many states have banned the use of latex gloves in medical firms and restaurants, and are instead switching to vinyl gloves. However, vinyl also leads to serious health risks because it contains Di phthalate, or DEHP, which the New York Times reported can lead to testicular cancer in infants and young men.
Because of the safety hazards associated with latex and vinyl, they are clearly unfit for medical gloves and common household products, particularly those that mothers and children use on an everyday basis. Potential alternatives to these dangerous materials need to be explored more thoroughly, and they will be discussed in a later article in this series.
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