What began as a small group of just under 10 brands of hand sanitizer to avoid has ballooned into a list of well over 100, and the products have now taken their first lives.
The concern began when various brands of hand sanitizer were shown to contain methanol rather than ethanol. While ethanol is an alcohol-based key component of an effective sanitizer, methanol is toxic if absorbed through the skin and can be fatal if consumed. Such was the case recently in Arizona and New Mexico when 15 people were admitted to local hospitals having consumed a methanol-contaminated hand sanitizer. Six experienced seizures during their hospitalization, three left the hospital with either a complete loss of vision or something very close to it, and four would not leave the hospital alive.
When news broke that US President Donald Trump had floated the idea of using the same process as hand sanitization internally to fight COVID-19 infection, there were concerns that those who voraciously follow him would begin drinking or injecting sanitizing solutions in response. While those fears would eventually prove to be quite valid, such groups aren’t the only concern when it comes to sanitizer consumption. In fact, those with a history of alcohol abuse can also have a history of consuming alcohol-based sanitizers as a substitute vehicle for the drug.
The FDA is now warning against the purchase and use of over 150 kinds of hand sanitizer products over ongoing concerns of contamination with methanol. In addition, lab tests of some brands of sanitizer are coming back showing significantly lower concentrations of ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol than is necessary to properly function as a sanitizing agent. In a statement, the FDA says that it “urges consumers not to use these subpotent products and has expanded its list to include subpotent hand sanitizers, in addition to hand sanitizers that are or may be contaminated with methanol.”
The vast majority of sanitizers in question are imported, and the majority of those have been imported from Mexico. While the FDA is working to try to stop the products before they are able to enter the country, the scope of the list of affected products shows how daunting such a task would be. Consumers’ protection is largely in their own hands on this issue and caution should be used regardless of the vendor used to purchase a sanitizer product.
The FDA’s full and updated list of sanitizers can be found on its website and as of this writing currently shows 163 entries.