$123M nitrile glove plant in stasis after temporary shortage

The federal government paid $123 million to build the nation's first plant to reproduce synthetic rubber into nitrile gloves, but after medical supply shortages ebbed, the Virginia facility sits unused, The Washington Post reported Dec. 28. 

Multiple forms of personal protective equipment were in short supply at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, global demand for nitrile exam gloves exceeded production capacity by about 215 billion units, or about 40% of the world's supply. 

The rubber plant was ready for operations in spring 2023, nearly three years after the monthslong shortage of masks, gloves and isolation gowns. The project was lost in the shuffle after the 2020 presidential election, the Post reported. Funding only came through for the nitrile butadiene rubber plant, which still needs $60 million to hook up utilities.

Another $170 million is also needed to build the adjacent glove factory. As the sites await funding, hundreds of motors from the plant's reactors are in a humidity-controlled storage shed. 

"Just wasted money," Scott Maier, CEO of Blue Star NBR, the company contracted to build the plants, told the Post. "This was all built, ready to go. And because we didn't start, now we have to take it all apart. … We just want to finish what we started."

Two other factories — one in Maryland, one in New Hampshire — that are supposed to transform rubber into gloves are also white elephants. 

Supply chain experts have long been championing more domestic manufacturing of medical equipment, and the idea is picking up steam after millions of fake nitrile gloves were imported to the U.S. during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. In November, the White House used a Cold War-era policy to invest $35 million into sterile injectables and supply chain resilience efforts. 

But if resources falter into these efforts similar to projects with the rubber glove plants, or they're viewed as a short-term fix, progress into strengthening the medical supply chain can decay. 

"It would be a shame not to finish," Victor Galati, Blue Star's CFO, said. "It's a vital product that we need, and we're putting our country at risk, not having something so important."


Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars