OSHA Hazard Information Bulletins
Using Duct Tape with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Hazardous Waste Sites and Related Operations

April 11, 1988




  • Director
  • Office of Field Programs


  • Director
  • Directorate of Technical Support


  • Health Hazard Information Bulletin: Using Duct Tape with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Hazardous Waste Sites and Related Operations

Duct tape, although very useful, during hazardous waste site and similar operations, has its limitations according to an article by Captain John Maleta of the L.A. County Fire Department titled, "From Baling Wire to Duct Tape" in industrial Fire World of October, 1987. Duct tape is used to seal zippers, to seal gloves, to seal boots, to seal breathing apparatus facepiece to the suit and patch holes in suits.

Captain Maleta says that duct tape has some resistance to most solvents; however, the adhesive on the duct tape is not designed for sealing of personal protective equipment from thousands of chemicals and is soluble in almost every type of solvent known. Restriction bands made from tire tubes or rubber bands as suggested in this article, may also be affected by chemicals, and the additional restriction around the wrists may further impede movement and cause numbness.

CSHO's should be aware of the above problems and the potential exposures from leakage that may be caused from duct tape failure during emergency response, at hazardous waste site, and other similar operations where duct tape may be used with PPE or Personal Protective Clothing (PPC).



Living in the space age is so confusing! You ask why? Well, we put mechanical hearts in humans, use lasers for bloodless operations, and put every kind of conceivable information on thin floppy disks. I would say these were great and far-reaching accomplishments for the scientific community so then, why can't we with all of this technology, design and produce a fully leakproof suit that can resist harmful chemicals.

Having attended many seminars and hazardous materials classes, I have found one of the most talked about subjects is the personal protective equipment (PPE) manufactured for the first responders. One point of great importance to the responder or wearer is the various degrees or classification of the PPE. They range from full turnout gear to encapsulated teflon suits.

In the past 5-10 years the production and use of PPE has increased dramatically. Thus, manufacturers and those wearing PPE may not have experience they need. This could be causing a false sense of security for those wearing PPE, as it does not protect against every hazardous material incident. Use of the pressure or light test will show how PPE may not protect as completely as it should. First, the exhaust ports are very difficult to check for leakage, and secondly, all suits leak in some way or another. In my opinion, we should always use a positive pressure air system with our PPE to keep the "methyl ethyl bad stuff" out.

Now that we have lost confidence in our chemical suits, what do we do next? Who do we turn to? As usual, we do not look to the scientific community. No, we resourceful devils look to the cupboards or go to the local hardware store to correct the leakage problem. Yes, you guessed it: good old duct tape. This product has been used to patch holes in radiator hoses, hold vehicle bumpers in place keep windshields together and yes, even patch haz-mat suits!

Because the PPE that we purchase is very expensive to use duct tape to seal zippers, the over-gloves to the wrists, the ankle area to the boots, breathing apparatus facepiece to the suit and actually patch holes in suits causes me much concern. One of the concerns is that when you see tape around the wearer's wrists, which is usually wrapped tightly to hold the gloves on, it becomes very difficult to take the gloves off. It might work if you leave a pull-tab, but when working with two sets of gloves and trying to grab a small tab - give me a break! If the gloves are taped to an encapsulating suit and the wearer wants to do some emergency adjustments to his breathing apparatus inside the suit, it is close to impossible. The same goes for taping the cuffs of the suit to the boots. If for some reason your boots leak, you could have a long delay getting the boots off. I can see a first responder being so taped up that he would have to carry a survival knife to literally cut himself out when he has a problem.

I feel very strongly that the wearer of PPE should have the option of doffing his suit easily if and when he has a problem. The use of duct tape for sealing purposes could definitely cause a problem in this area. Envision yourself wrapped up in tough fabric with your wrists and ankles taped tightly and you want out!

I feel that duct tape can be used, but only if absolutely necessary...and preferably only in conjunction with a disposable suit.

This domestic tape, duct tape as we know it, is made of polyethylene coated cloth...yes, cloth, with a rubber resin adhesive. The cloth/poly combination can end up acting like a sponge and the polyethylene also has a problem with caustics. It may cause softening of the backing and weaken the adhesive bond, but it does have some resistance to most solvents. On the other had, the adhesive, which is not designed for use in sealing off personal protective equipment form thousands of chemicals that the responder might come in contact with, is soluble in almost every type of solvent known. Pesticides which have a hydrocarbon as a solvent/carrier are one example where the rubber resin adhesive is soluble. When a responder walks into a spill, it is possible that the rubber resin will start to liquefy. The sticky mess that would result would be very difficult to decontaminate.

If this were to happen in the wrist area, which is very vulnerable to liquid attack, the sticky mess could run down into and onto the inner glove. Then you would have to clean both pairs of gloves. If the responder had to raise his arms during his work the mess could run down to his arm past the elbow. It would not be practical to use more solvent to remove the rubbery, sticky residue and if the residue is not removed you could, with a lot of use, accumulate a film or build-up of various chemicals which could ruin the suit.

One of the major U.S. manufacturers was contacted and their representative stated that their product was not designed for chemical mishaps. He also stated some of the approved uses; reduced noise transmission when used as a flexible connect or; sealing fiberglass insulation or to cover thermal insulation and a waterproof cover over pipe insulation. This tape which is primarily used for sealing duct work, will withstand 180 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods and up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit intermittently...But nothing was stated about resistance to chemicals.

It alarms me that we purchase these suits, check the charts for chemical compatibility and then patch or seal them with the cure-all. Thirty years ago it was baling wire, today it is duct tape. This is wrong!

In place of duct tape, restriction bands made form tire tubes or rubber bands could be used to secure that second pair of gloves. These bands could then be discarded after use. Yes, the chemical might pass through and under the restriction band and cause some damage to the inner gloves, but those can be discarded or decontaminated. Remember, at least now you don't have a sticky mess with which to contend. Another advantage is that the wearer can easily pull his hand out of the gloves to make adjustments to the equipment or suit. This, in my opinion, is an important factor - it seems we rarely teach escape and retreat procedures. Also keep in mind that this product can be used in some vapor/gas situations with no problems.

Duct tape can continue to make its mark in replacing baling wire and doing a very good job - but in the heating and air conditioning world for where it was designed!

The opinions expressed are mine and mine only. Please send inquiries to me at the address below.

  • Captain John Maleta,
  • L.A. County Fire Dept.,
  • 1041 W. 18th St.,
  • San Pedro, CA 90731