Read the full article by Ginger Hervey (ChemicalWatch)

“Much of the personal protective gear being produced to fight the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic is likely to contain hazardous chemicals, according to experts from NGO Health Care Without Harm (HCWH).

Medical textiles, such as masks and gowns, are probably treated with per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) because of their as-yet-unparalleled effectiveness as repellents, according to Dorota Napierska, chemicals policy officer at HCWH.

These could be long-chain PFASs like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been banned globally under the UN’s Stockholm Convention but with several exemptions including one for medical textiles, or short-chain PFASs. Trade body Fluorocouncil says short-chain PFASs are less bio-persistent than long-chain versions. But some studies, such as a US National Toxicology Program (NTP) report in August last year, suggest they affect the same organs – the liver and the thyroid.

Another concern is PVC, which is often treated with phthalates, said Susan Wilburn, international sustainability director at HCWH, and found in a range of medical devices like IV tubing and blood bags. It is also the cheapest option for manufacturing throwaway gloves.

The World Health Organization and Unep have found that PVC releases unintentional persistent organic pollutants (uPOPs) like dioxins when it is incinerated, a common practice for medical waste and often carried out in poor-quality incinerators without pollution control in developing countries.

‘Medical waste incinerators have always been notorious for the amount of dioxin they produce, mainly because of the high PVC content in all of that protective equipment. The chlorine content catalyses uPOPs formation,’ said Lee Bell, POPs policy adviser for NGO network Ipen. These concerns are exacerbated during the pandemic as more medical waste is produced, from both hospitals and regular households.

Despite this, HCWH experts said that because regulations don’t require ingredient disclosure and labelling by companies, information on the chemicals used in the production of protective equipment is not publicly available. This has become more acute because production of such equipment has significantly increased since the virus began to spread.

‘Transparency throughout the supply chain is a major issue,’ said Ms Wilburn. ‘Including the chemicals in materials and the tiers within the producer’s own supply chain’…”