A consumer advocacy group is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of medical latex gloves and gloves that have cornstarch powder on them, charging that they pose a serious threat to patients and health care workers.

According to Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, health care workers run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reactions when they either wear latex gloves or inhale cornstarch powder bound to latex proteins that has been released from latex gloves worn by others. “Breathing in cornstarch powder bound to latex proteins can cause acute asthma attacks and anaphylactic shock in health care workers sensitized to latex,” according to a statement issued by the group.

The group says the gloves and powder are also a hazard to patients. “Patients can experience the same types of allergic reactions that occur in health care workers. Also, when cornstarch is deposited in tissues during surgery, it can promote infections, delay healing and cause inflammation, among other injuries.

This is the second time Public Citizen has petitioned the agency to ban the use of cornstarch powder in latex gloves. The first time was on Jan. 7, 1998. The next year, the FDA rejected the petition and, instead, proposed regulations to reclassify surgical and patient examination gloves as class II devices requiring special controls, such as warning labels. Public Citizen called the FDA’s response “inadequate.”

“The FDA’s prolonged failure to take action eliminating the dangers posed by powdered surgical and patient examination gloves demonstrates a reckless and inexcusable disregard for the health and safety of patients and health care workers,” said Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “The dangers posed by powdered surgical and patient examination gloves and all latex gloves have been widely recognized throughout the medical profession and the world for many years and are indisputable. Safer, equally effective substitutes are available.”