The threats posed by chemicals and other hazardous substances are greater than ever. Many thousands of different chemicals are being manufactured, transported and handled, and potential hazards exist at every stage of their life cycle.
These hazards are compounded by the ever-present risk that terrorist organisations and other activist groups may gain access to potentially lethal chemicals with the intent of using them as weapons to cause widespread destruction.
The need for personal protection has been clearly demonstrated over the past two decades by the large number of incidents involving the spread of contaminants. In response to such need, great strides have been made in the provision of personal protection and in preparing for such incidents.
Many innovative products have been developed recently for the chemical protective clothing market. Among these is a fabric made from cellulosic fibres which incorporates metal organic framework molecules (MOFs) that can selectively trap gases. Another important innovation is a material made from vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (CNTs) which can repel chemical and biological agents.
Gore Chempak Selectively Permeable Fabric is liquid proof but also air-permeable and therefore able to control heat loss. Other significant innovations include a special self-cleaning cotton fabric incorporating a novel compound which produces antimicrobial compounds that kill bacteria and break down toxins, and a range of protective garments made from materials which can be safely landfilled or incinerated without harm to the environment.
Substantial challenges remain, not least those relating to funding. Worryingly, cutbacks in spending on emergency response services can not be ruled out given the dire state of many government budgets. But the prospects for the chemical protective clothing industry are good, even in well established markets such as the USA and Europe. In particular, the US government has provided additional funding for chemical protective clothing as part of its Homeland Security initiative.
Sales of chemical protective clothing are more robust than sales of other types of protective apparel. This is because, in many applications, employers can not afford to skimp on chemical protective clothing, given the disproportionately higher costs associated with worker injuries and the penalties imposed on companies which fail to comply with health and safety regulations. Consequently, there is no opportunity in these applications to use cheaper garments as alternatives to expensive ones.
Legislation requiring employers to supply protective clothing in certain work environments has long been in place in advanced economies in North America and Europe. However, similar legislation has been established recently in many developing countries in Asia, South America and other parts of the developing world.
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