The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning to the American public about the dangers of using hand sanitizers that contain methanol. The warning was released in an attempt to help prevent harm to consumers and health care professionals who are likely to use hand sanitizers, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Potential Dangers of Methanol
Methanol is also known as wood alcohol, and it’s a substance frequently used in the production of antifreeze and fuel that is considered unsafe for use in hand sanitizer. The substance is toxic to users if absorbed through the skin, and the ingestion of methanol can result in death.
The FDA’s recent warning comes as the agency has noticed a surge in hand sanitizer products that advertise ethanol among their contents. However, many hand sanitizer products containing ethanol were found to have been contaminated by methanol. Some state officials have also been reporting that children and adults have experienced serious adverse health issues when ingesting methanol-contaminated hand sanitizers, ranging from hospitalizations and blindness to death.
To help educate the public regarding which hand sanitizers to avoid, the agency has compiled an updated list of hand sanitizers with methanol. The FDA has also continued to conduct quality tests of hand sanitizers, including products that have gone through U.S. customs when crossing the border. The FDA website also lists various recalled hand sanitizers that failed FDA testing.
While hand sanitizers can be effective in maintaining good hygiene among health care workers and others, some companies have put people at risk by selling products containing methanol and other unsafe and unapproved substances, often in an attempt to save money. FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.S. released a statement telling people to avoid hand sanitizers containing methanol. In the statement, Hahn also said that the FDA is continuing to work with various professionals including manufacturers to keep hand sanitizers safe and make them available to the public.
What to Do with Methanol-contaminated Hand Sanitizers
As the FDA urges companies to recall dangerous hand sanitizers, the agency also warns that many products are still available at retail stores or online. If consumers encounter these products, the FDA recommends that they immediately cease consumption of these products and to dispose of containers in hazardous waste receptacles if possible. Otherwise, consumers can dispose of harmful hand sanitizers based on local waste management and recycling company recommendations. It’s important to avoid pouring these products down drains or mixing hand sanitizers with other hygiene products.
When exposed to methanol, people may experience symptoms such as nausea, headache, vomiting, blurred vision, or they may suffer more serious conditions including permanent blindness, coma, permanent nervous system damage, or even death. Many people who use these products on their skin could experience serious symptoms, but young children who ingest these hand sanitizers accidentally or those who drink it as a substitute for alcohol are at risk of even more serious health issues. It’s important for anyone who was exposed to methanol-contaminated hand sanitizers or other forms of methanol to seek immediate medical attention and treatment.
In addition to hand sanitizers containing methanol, the FDA warns against ingesting any hand sanitizer product. Younger children are particularly at risk of accidental consumption if they mistake it for a consumable drink based on the smell or visually appealing labels. Since the spread of COVID-19, poison control centers have reported a surge in calls pertaining to the accidental ingestion of hand sanitizers. Adults should do what they can to keep these products out of reach of children and make sure the use of these products is supervised.
Pets may also come into contact with hand sanitizer and accidentally consume it, in which case pet owners can call pet poison control centers or their local veterinarian for immediate medical attention.
Use Soap and Water Instead of Hand-Sanitizer
People are also advised to use soap and water to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds instead of hand sanitizer. The FDA recommends washing with soap and water throughout the day before eating, after using the bathroom, and after sneezing or coughing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are recommended if soap and water aren’t readily available. Specifically, the FDA suggests using hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent ethanol, but it’s important to avoid any methanol-containing products that appear on the FDA’s list.
The FDA continues to practice vigilance to keep products safe for consumers, often with the help of people who report product defects. The agency advises people to report any adverse effects or quality issues pertaining to the use of hand sanitizers to their MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program, which they can do online or via fax.