Greener Gloves

William R Doyle, president and ceo, Vystar Corporation, explains how removing antigenic proteins from latex enhances performance and reduces potential for allergic reactions

Vytex NRL is made by modifying pure latex via green chemistry for use in making gloves

William R. Doyle, president and ceo, Vystar Corporation, explains how removing antigenic proteins from latex enhances performance and reduces potential for allergic reactions

More than 40,000 products are made from natural rubber latex, including gloves. However, out of more than 200 proteins within natural rubber latex, 13 are known to be allergens. It has been estimated that 3% of the general population, including 17% of healthcare workers, exhibit some form of latex allergy, hindering their use of such gloves.

Vystar has found a way to remove most of the antigenic proteins that may prompt an allergic response. It involves the addition of aluminum hydroxide, Al(OH)3, a well-known protein binding chemical, to latex while it is still in liquid form. This compound acts as a binding agent to the latex and produces protein complexes that can be removed. The result is an ultra low-protein variant of a natural rubber latex raw material that retains the advantages of the original material while reducing wearers’ exposure to antigenic proteins. Multiple patents have been awarded to Vystar Corporation of Atlanta, GA, for this material under the name Vytex Natural Rubber Latex (NRL).

In August, Brightway Holdings SDN BHD Malaysia, one of the world’s largest specialist cleanroom and exam glove manufacturers, announced the successful culmination of a set of material-use evaluation trials involving Vytex NRL. Conducted at Biopro, one of Brightway’s glove manufacturing facilities in Malaysia, the results pave the way for the manufacture and market introduction of the first glove bearing the “Made with Vytex” mark. Vystar and Brightway have agreed to go into production with the

Vytex-based glove immediately and to start targeted distribution.

With the Al(OH)3 processing step, there is no added expense of capital equipment. Reacted complexes are removed by standard filtration and centrifugation. The remaining rubber particles retain the surrounding lipid layer, which, during maturation, improves the mechanical stability of the latex. Scientists have observed that this process yields products with greater clarity and virtually no odour, in addition to significantly fewer antigenic proteins, without sacrificing the properties that give natural rubber latex its advantages.

Al(OH)3, a well-known protein binding chemical, produces protein complexes that can be removed from the latex

The availability, ease of production and performance of latex products make NRL a raw material preferred by product manufacturers and users around the globe. Its proven biodegradability makes it the material of choice in our increasingly environmentally conscious society.

Unlike most synthetic alternatives, Vytex NRL uses green chemistry to modify pure latex. The modified NRL derived from the rubber tree remains 100% natural, biodegradable and free from known human carcinogens. In contrast, many synthetic alternatives to latex, such as PVC vinyl, nitrile and chloroprene, which are made from petrochemical derivatives, are neither biodegradable nor compostable.

The incineration of these synthetic products can lead to the liberation of toxins and carcinogens, such as dioxin, cyanide, vinyl chlorides, and hydrogen chloride. Unlike such synthetic alternatives, Vytex NRL has minimal impact on the environment.

One study conducted at a latex surgical glove manufacturing plant in India further illustrates Vytex’s environmentally friendly properties. During a period when the plant was producing 110,000 pairs of latex gloves daily, the amount of water consumed during the multiple rinsing and leaching procedures associated with standard latex to reduce protein levels was 36 kilolitres (kL) per day. In comparison, using Vytex would require only 14.4kL per day. The difference amounts to a savings of US$108,000 annually. At the same plant, the daily energy consumption associated with the use of standard latex amounted to 684,000 kilocalories per kilowatt-hour (Kcal/kWh); the corresponding figure for Vytex would be 288,000Kcal/kWh. Here the annual savings would come to US$364,500. Summing up these figures shows that the plant would save itself US$472,500 by using Vytex.

The rise of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s highlighted the widespread use of latex gloves to protect against infection. But for many healthcare professionals, the increased exposure to latex led to allergic reactions. Symptoms ranged from watery and itchy eyes to red and irritated skin to troubled breathing and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Healthcare professionals developed latex allergies that, in some cases, limited or ended their careers. Latex gloves were also negatively perceived because of the powder associated with the gloves that left residue on users’ hands and caused skin irritation.

It should be stressed that natural rubber latex gloves are known for their superior barrier properties and cost effectiveness. As such, they are widely used in healthcare settings where effective barrier protection is of great importance against viral transmission and infectious diseases. With the exception of vinyl or PVC gloves, which have been shown to provide lesser barrier protection, natural rubber latex gloves are generally less expensive than many synthetic alternatives, such as polyisoprene, polychloroprene, and at times nitrile.

There is thus an obvious market for Vytex NRL in the latex glove market. Gloves in manufacturer trials such as those performed by Brightway have been shown to contain significantly fewer proteins than untreated control gloves. This indicates that manufacturers using Vytex NRL as their raw feedstock can adhere to ASTM glove protein compliance levels with only “pre-leaching” with Vytex NRL. While reducing the antigenic protein content, these gloves preserve the durability, comfort, fit, tactile sensitivity, and high resistance to puncture and tear for which natural rubber latex is known.