Millions of bloody, used nitrile gloves being sent to US dubbed ‘most dangerous commodity’

Investigation reveals Thai warehouse sending used and 'filthy' gloves to the US, was raided in December, but reportedly there are more such operations


                            Millions of bloody, used nitrile gloves being sent to US dubbed ‘most dangerous commodity’
REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE: Blood-stained surgical gloves (@delanidis_stefanos/Instagram)

With a surge in medical equipment demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears some Thai businesses have found a get-rich-quick scheme - repackaging and selling used medical gloves. According to a bombshell report, a Thai warehouse has been sending dirty, bloodstained gloves to the US, after repackaging them to make them appear new. Despite a raid on the facility back in December 2020, it appears the issue isn't over - there may be more businesses out there doing this. 

At the start of the pandemic, the overwhelming number of cases left a huge strain on medical equipment, with costs surging over 1000% as we reported back in April 2020. A massive PPE shortage led many healthcare workers to improvise from using plastic ponchos to trash bags. The acute shortage forced other industries to pivot and help fulfill the gaps, like fashion multinational firm LVMH announcing it would use its perfume factories to produce hand sanitizers. 

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Despite those efforts, key medical equipment was still in short supply, chief amongst them PPE like masks and gloves. CNN revealed the scope and scale of how the US was getting dirty gloves, adding that it led to criminal investigations in both countries. Despite that, however, it doesn't seem like the issue is over.

Battling illicit trade hard

The CNN report, published on October 24, notes that Thai businesses have been boxing up and sending over "millions of counterfeit and second-hand nitrile gloves", not just to the US, but a number of other countries as well. They found "Trash bags stuffed full of used medical gloves, some visibly soiled, some even blood-stained," in a warehouse in Bangkok. It appears workers were using blue dye to repaint the gloves, so as to make them appear new. 

One of the facilities was raided in December by Thai authorities, but it appears that isn't the end of the issue. Stopping the illicit trade is hard for two reasons, one there are plenty of other operations running out of warehouses that are yet to be identified and raided. Secondly, because import restrictions remain lifted. As CNN noted, to deal with the shortage in equipment, the US lifted all restrictions at the start of the pandemic, and never put them back. 

To make matters worse, it appears the FDA was made aware of the issue but is yet to fully stop the imports. As a result, the dirty gloves have continued to make their way to US hospitals, with medical providers having little else recourse given that they are produced entirely in South and East Asia.

How the gloves are coming in

In February and March 2021, one US company warned the FDA and CBP about the issue, but the Thai business was still able to send over more gloves. "It's ridiculously nefarious at every link in the chain,"  expert Douglas Stein told CNN. The reason stopping the scam is so hard is because of its elaborate nature, it's not just repainting the gloves, but the paperwork to send them over.

The company accused of sending the dirty gloves - Paddy The Room - reportedly sent over counterfeit inspection reports as well to show their products were of high quality. When CNN contacted the inspection team, they confirmed that the reports were forgeries. Adding to this, few physical checks are made at the borders, so the dirty gloves are allowed to come in as long as they conform to the current requirement of being labeled as up to standard. 

Paddy The Room is now facing a criminal investigation by the DHS, but by the time the government could act, it is estimated that some 80 million gloves have been shipped to the US. It is unclear where most of them are, given the complex nature of modern supply chains.  It's not just the US struggling, Thai authorities are facing challenges too. Despite the raid, Paddy The Room was simply able to move to a different warehouse, "Because the demand for gloves is still high. There are still customers waiting out there," the  Deputy Secretary-General of the Thai FDA said.

The issue is so bad, Stein called surgical gloves the "most dangerous commodity on Earth right now." The gloves aren't just going to hospitals though, unable to sell them, some distributors have been sold at lower prices to hotels, restaurants, and even food processing plants. 

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