For the vast majority of Americans that are heeding the advice and warnings of the scientific and medical communities, proper hand sanitization is just as much a part of trying to keep themselves and those around them safe as wearing a mask while out in public. As the novel coronavirus made its initial impacts on the country, hand sanitizer was one of the first commodities to become scarce. Small bottles of the liquid that were once ubiquitous with checkout lanes and drug store endcaps quickly became as scarce as toilet paper as the pandemic strengthened its hold.
As manufacturers struggled to keep up with demand and restock shelves, a number of companies sprung up eager to grab a quick share of the hand sanitizer market and the money that came with it. Comprised of just a couple key components, hand sanitizer is easy to produce and easy to scale for those that can get their hands on the ingredients.
This has, unfortunately opened the door to a variety of bad actors who are using unapproved ingredients that cost less and are easier to obtain. Among those ingredients is methanol, or wood alcohol. Methanol is toxic to the human body when ingested or absorbed through the skin. And it has found its way into a not-insignificant number of American homes as shoppers continue to panic purchase anything and everything having to do with sanitization and cleaning.
What started as a warning from the FDA to avoid nine brands of hand sanitizer has quickly blossomed into over 50. The brands are almost all sub-companies of one or two manufacturers – Eskbiochem SA de CV of Mexico and 4E Global which is also a Mexican company.
Eskbiochem has been quick to try to distance itself from the presence of a toxic chemical in its products but has been slow to take action to remove them from store shelves. Citing the activities of a broker who “registered [their] labels and shipped sanitizers,” a company spokesperson claims they could not have made any changes to their FDA profile because they “don’t know how to” log in to it.
Symptoms of exposure to methanol – not to be confused with ethanol which is supposed to be found in hand sanitizer – include nausea, vomiting, headache, blindness, onset of seizures, and other side effects. Consumers are advised to check their hand sanitizers against the FDA’s current list of known offenders to ensure they have not obtained tainted product and to also be aware that any hand sanitizer that is labeled as “FDA-approved” is to automatically be considered suspect because there is no such thing since the agency does not approve hand sanitizers.