Tens of millions of counterfeit and already used medical gloves — that were cleaned, repackaged, and sold as new — have been imported into the United States from Thailand during the pandemic, according to a monthslong CNN investigation published on Sunday. CNN also reports that what it discovered is likely “just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to this kind of illicit trade, as the ongoing surge in demand for nitrile gloves continues to outstrip supply.
“These were reused gloves. They were washed, recycled,” Tarek Kirschen, a Miami-based businessman who ordered about $2 million of gloves from Paddy the Room, the Thailand-based company at the center of the report, told CNN. “Some of them were dirty. Some of them had bloodstains. Some of them had markers on them with dates from two years ago — I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
According to import records, U.S. distributors acquired almost 200 million gloves from the company across the pandemic, and it’s not clear what happened to them after they arrived.
Federal authorities in the United States and Thailand have both launched an investigation into the trade of secondhand gloves, CNN noted. The investigation by American authorities was prompted earlier this year after one U.S. company warned the Food and Drug Administration and Customs and Border Protection that it had received shipments filled with visibly used gloves from Paddy the Room. The Thai firm responsible for the substandard glove shipment continued operation until at least July; meanwhile, it took the FDA five months after being tipped off about the counterfeit gloves to send out an alert to all its port staff that shipments from Paddy the Room should be seized. By that time, more than 80 million more gloves from the company had been shipped to the U.S., according to the records CNN reviewed.
The report explains that the flow of subpar gloves into the U.S. was made easier by the FDA’s temporary suspension of import regulations in order to ease the pandemic-fueled PPE shortage. In a statement, the agency told CNN that companies’ shipments only fall under the relaxed rules “as long as the gloves conform to the consensus standards and labeling cited in the guidance and where the gloves do not create an undue risk.”
Meanwhile in Thailand, authorities have done at least ten raids in recent months and seized used gloves being repackaged into counterfeit nitrile boxes; according to CNN, some authorities even found workers “scrubbing used gloves by hand in wash bowls and dyeing them with food coloring,” then drying them with laundry machines.
“There’s an enormous amount of bad product coming in,” Douglas Stein, an expert in the nitrile-glove industry, told CNN: “an endless stream of filthy, secondhand and substandard gloves coming into the U.S. of which federal authorities, it seems, are only now beginning to understand the enormous scale.” Stein called nitrile gloves the “most dangerous commodity on Earth right now.”