Issue 15, September 12, 2018

Buying the Correct Personal Protective Equipment

Permeation, degradation, and breakthrough time are all specific criteria to consider when searching for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  Pesticide applicators often work with many different types of pesticide formulations and numerous adjuvants.  Routine day-day work tasks result in an increased risk of exposure to these chemicals. To reduce exposure, we need to use personal protective equipment that is compatible with the chemicals that we are applying.  Since PPE is made from various materials and manufactured using different processes, it is essential to understand the chemical compatibility of the materials.

  • Permeation rate: This is a measure of how fast a chemical can go through a material.  Thicker materials tend to have slower permeation rates. Permeation rates are reported differently by the various manufacturers, but a higher number generally means a quicker penetration rate.
  • Degradation: This is the actual physical change to the material caused by the chemical. This includes; swelling, stiffening, wrinkling, changes in color, and other physical deteriorations. The slower the degradation occurs in the presence of a chemical, the more protective the material is for that specific chemical.  There is no standardized test for degradation. Each manufacturer uses their own method for analysis. 
  • Breakthrough time: This is the length of time from the point first contact with a chemical on a material to when it can be detected on the opposite side of the material. The longer the breakthrough time, the more protective the material is for that particular chemical. Breakthrough is measured using a standardized test (ASTM F739).

The testing process on most personal protective equipment, like gloves, is usually done with one chemical.  This means that when you mix pesticides, your PPE might not be compatible. If you think this might be the case, a quick call to the manufacturer with the label(s) in hand can alleviate that concern. 

While many manufacturers may use the similar materials, e.g., nitrile, the final PPE products may not be the same. Each manufacturer may use a specific manufacturing process and therefore may produce PPE with variable characteristics. Be sure to check the compatibility charts from the manufacturer.

A product's resistance to cuts, abrasions, and punctures must also be taken into account as a critical usage factor. A glove with excellent permeation resistance may not be adequate if it tears or punctures easily. Always factor in the physical performance of the job when selecting your PPE. Understanding how materials are made and evaluated will help you make the appropriate choice for protecting you and your employees. (Maria Turner)

Maria Turner

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