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Behold the power of latex. It is everywhere, and Walpole, Mass., attorney James M. Brady has taken notice. In various hospitals in Massachusetts and New England, the attorney notes, healthcare workers snap on latex gloves while a puff of potentially dangerous latex powder to those with allergies fills the air. In restaurants, latex-gloved food handlers serve meals to unsuspecting patrons who may have serious allergic reactions. What’s more, the allergic diner is typically treated in an ambulance brimming with latex products. Not surprisingly, latex is big business, says Brady of Brady & Monac. The manufacturing industry which produces latex gloves is worth billions of dollars and it is putting up quite a battle over the suggestion that latex gloves be removed from the healthcare and food industries, he says. In Massachusetts, an effort is afoot to keep latex use in check, particularly in the hospital and food industries. Proponents are seeking that latex and latex powder be replaced by a vinyl product. “Our law doesn’t require medical professionals to use gloves, but it does require food handlers to use gloves,” says Brady, who testified on the hill. “We are asking that those in the food industry continue to use gloves, just not latex gloves.” Massachusetts House Bill No. 1152 calls for prohibiting persons who handle food from using certain latex gloves under G.L. c. 94. HIGH COST While latex litigation cases are extremely expensive to litigate for both sides, Brady says that costs, namely for companies, continue to mount under the current system, primarily because of workers’ compensation claims. “Isn’t it cheaper in the long run to get rid of latex gloves and pay two cents more a glove to avoid a workers’ compensation lawsuit?” he says. Fiscal concerns asides, Brady says the primary motive for limiting latex use is the negative effect it has on people and the environment. Brady began hearing cases involving latex allergies about seven years ago when a group of nurses from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston became ill from the air quality at the hospital. “As a result of HIV and other viruses, latex purchases went from $2 billion to $10 billion from 10 years ago,” he says, noting that in an effort to meet that demand manufacturers resorted to using cheaper latex powder, which propels in the air with a snap. “In an effort to meet demand, the manufacturers of these gloves bypassed the process of buying latex and through osmosis, the powder on these gloves are released into the air and into the lungs of allergic persons. As a result of the Brigham Women’s nurses fight, the hospital ended up spending approximately $8 million on air filtering.” Brady’s “expertise in latex” was established after a National Latex Allergy Conference in Chicago where he spoke to nurses and healthcare workers regarding workers’ compensation and latex allergy lawsuits. “When you fly more than 500 miles from your home you must become an expert,” says Brady. “I liked that I represented nurses because as tradesmen, they ask a lot of questions that makes you a better lawyer — it keeps you on top of your game.” A MATTER OF EDUCATION According to nurse Gail Lenehan, who testified for the Massachusetts bill sent to the House in May, there are many levels of roles that lawyers play in making an effective change to latex allergy laws. “Nurses need help educating and negotiating with hospitals for a safe working environment,” she says. “We have nurses who are on steroids and antihistamines who are continuing to work where latex gloves are being used and becoming increasingly at risk.” Lenehan believes lawyers can help nurses become accommodated with their rights in the system because “nurses sometimes aren’t able to fight on their own and that’s where we need lawyers to really get involved.” In Massachusetts, Brady says that the problem with these cases is “that there is a real educational curve that is associated with the healthcare profession and lawyers need to get involved in the industry to get a client.” “Judges can get upset because they don’t understand what clients are facing,” explains Brady. “I have to adequately represent my client by educating everyone in the room.” Brady acknowledges that some things are hard to believe, such as a child standing next to a balloon and having a reaction; but these are true stories, he says. What’s more, hearing about such cases and taking the steps to represent people is an educational role lawyers can take on. “We are making real progress,” says Brady. “Some hospitals now have signs in their pediatrics ward saying ‘Please no latex balloons in this area because of allergies.’” Lenehan recognizes that cases involving latex litigation take a lot of work getting the word out. “Lawyers are the ones that can really help make a difference,” says Lenehan. “Hospitals have a responsibility to accommodate nurses, physicians, and healthcare workers because of the Americans with Disabilities Act; OSHA regulations that mandate every institution should be made safe for their employees. We need lawyers to help make this effective.”

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