If the price of gas doesn’t make you sick, the thought of pumping it might.
Thousands of people have put their greasy, grimy, germy hands on the same pump you just grabbed and inserted into your tank.
It’s enough to make you wear gloves when you fill up. Or at least Antonio Lyon hopes so.
The Sunrise man has started a company that aims to create the biggest thing since hand wipes hit the grocery store — disposable gloves at the gas pump.
He is offering dispensers of free plastic U-Gloves to gas stations across South Florida and plans to spread the product nationwide. You already can find his gloves at about 150 stations, including some Chevrons, Texacos and BPs.
Lyon got the idea when visiting his wife’s family in Spain. Disposable gloves were everywhere at gas stations in Madrid, and he wondered why they weren’t in the U.S.
“I really wanted to know why we don’t have that solution here where about 90 percent of U.S. fuel transactions are self-serve, whereas in Europe, they are more full-service,” Lyon said.
Research shows there might be a need.
A 2011 study by Kimberly-Clark in six U.S. cities found that gas pumps are the dirtiest public surfaces that Americans touch, followed by mailbox handles, escalator rails, ATM buttons, parking meters, crosswalk buttons and vending machine buttons.
More than 70 percent of gas pumps swabbed had high levels of contamination — measured as adenosine triphosphate counts of 300 or higher. (Adenosine triphosphate is an energy-carrying molecule found in living cells and, according to the study, is considered a high risk to transmit illnesses.)
Brittany Stamphill, a 29-year-old bartender from Pompano Beach, came across U-Gloves at a Chevron in Fort Lauderdale and was elated.
Stamphill hates germs. She washes her hands constantly at work. After pumping gas, she usually cleans her hands in the car with sanitizer.
She found using the recyclable, biodegradable gloves a little “weird” and a bit “sticky” like wearing plastic bags from the supermarket. But she was relieved, because she gets “really grossed out by gas pumps.”
Geo Cutino, 26, of Hollywood, wasn’t as excited.
“I’d probably use wipes. You don’t really know what’s on these,” Cutino said after seeing the gloves for the first time. “And they might start blowing away.”
To start his Miramar business, Lyon first dug into his own pocket before raising “a couple of million dollars” last year from a South Florida investor group that he declined to name. The 29-year-old from Venezuela hopes his business can break even within a few years.
His initial concept took some tweaking.
In Spain, gas stations pay for the disposable gloves, partly to help customers keep gas and its smell off the hands of their customers. But Lyon found that U.S. station owners won’t spend for them.
So, he’s seeking ads on the gloves to support his venture.
Advertisers can spend as little as $120 for gloves for one week at one gas station or pay thousands of dollars to cover the full network for a holiday season or full year. Baptist Health, the sprawling South Florida health care group, is among the first advertisers.
Howard S. Hada, a professor of microbiology at Nova Southeastern University, isn’t convinced that gloves matter. While gas pumps may contain lots of human “energy molecules,” that doesn’t necessarily lead to disease. And he’s not aware of any clinical studies that say gas pumps are a major health hazard.
“As a public service preventing the spread of disease, I don’t think that’s going to make much of a difference,” Hada said.
But pulling up to the pump on his 1993 Harley motorcycle, marketer Charles Tona of Sunrise found the gloves to be a “great idea. It’s no cost to the consumer, and sanitation issues are more prominent.”
Tona, 56, didn’t notice the U-Glove dispenser initially. He said the color of the box blended in too much with the pump and words like “free” and “for your convenience” weren’t large or bold enough to prompt consumers “to take action.”
Kareen Boutros, 46, of Fort Lauderdale also failed to see the gloves at first. She’d never considered the need for them, either. But as she mulled the idea of grime on the pump when filling up a plastic container with gasoline, she quickly grabbed a pair of the gloves for the road.
“I’ll take them to my house,” Boutros said, “because I need to put gas in the other car.”
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this story.
BY DOREEN HEMLOCK,