Capitol Connection: An Invisible Danger

February 8, 2015

About 1 in 5 Americans suffer from allergies. We’re familiar with the effects of many of these. For example, pollen can cause severe congestion, cat dander can cause itching, and peanuts can cause hives and even anaphylaxis – a life threatening reaction. But how familiar are you with the effects of a latex allergy? And how sensitive and dangerous is this allergen really?

I recently learned about latex allergies at a public hearing at the state Capitol before the Connecticut General Law Committee. Up for discussion was a bill proposing a new law that would prohibit the use of latex gloves at food businesses. The purpose of the bill: to prevent latex particles from coming into contact with food in restaurants, stores, and manufacturing establishments.

Latex is produced by rubber trees and used as an elastic-like material in things like rubber gloves, rubber bands, erasers, balloons and toys. According to the American Latex Allergy Association approximately 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from the allergy, but it is also believed to be widely underreported. Anywhere from 8-17% of health care workers also suffer from the allergy because of their high exposure to latex in medical gloves and up to 68% of children with spina bifida are estimated to have the allergy.

Allergic reactions to latex range from mild to very severe. At the public hearing, a member of the South Windsor Town Council shared stories about her own reactions which included eyes swelling shut, labored breathing, severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, and swelling so severe she was hospitalized.

All these reactions were the result of latex contamination. Either someone with latex gloves handled her food, or airborne particles from latex stored nearby touched her food. Latex is particularly dangerous because it’s impossible to tell whether the food you are eating has come into contact with it – particles are invisible and discrete.

To help reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions to unseen toxins, the bill before the Connecticut state legislature would ban the use of latex gloves in environments that handle food. Instead, non-latex gloves could be used, which are often less expensive and safer.

Testimony shared at the state Capitol also highlighted that allergies such as a latex allergy are considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, food service providers must consider how the ADA impacts what food is offered, how it is prepared and how it is stored – and be respectful of those with allergies.

This legislation appears to be a good way to look out for those with allergies, and prevent some very serious medical situations. I look forward to continuing the discussion at the Capitol and working with fellow legislators to eliminate invisible threats, and make our state safer for all people.