Increasing poisonings, blindness, deaths as toxic hand sanitizers flood the market

A gloved hand dispenses the goo into a bare, open hand.
Enlarge / / Hand sanitizer applied to a person’s hand.

The Food and Drug Administration is renewing warnings this week about dangerous hand sanitizers as it continues to find products that contain toxic methanol, a poisonous alcohol that can cause systemic effects, blindness and death.

The agency’s growing “don’t use list” of dangerous disinfectants now includes 87 products. And with the increase in the count, the FDA also says there are increasing reports from state health departments and poison control centers for injuries and deaths.

“We remain extremely concerned about the potential serious risks of methanol-containing alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said in a statement.

Good hand hygiene, including the use of hand sanitizers when hand washing is not possible, is an important public health practice, especially in the midst of the pandemic. But, Dr. Hahn said, “Consumers should also be vigilant about the hand sanitizers they use, and for their health and safety, we urge consumers to stop using all hand sanitizers on the list of dangerous products. hand sanitizing procedure. “

The agency reported that its ongoing tests have found disinfectants containing methanol at levels ranging from 1 to 80 percent. No amount of methanol is acceptable, the agency notes. Alcohol, which is metabolized to formaldehyde and then formic acid in the body, can cause systemic toxic effects if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Eating just two tablespoons can be fatal for young children, who may be tempted to take disinfectants at their fingertips. Smaller amounts can lead to permanent blindness.

States continue to report increasing reports of product damage, which can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system, cardiac effects, and death. In one case, researchers linked one death to the Blumen hand sanitizer, distributed by 4e North America and manufactured by 4E Global in Mexico. The company has recently expanded a recall of its products, the FDA notes.

Alerts about the toxic hand sanitizer first appeared in late June, when the FDA identified nine offensive products, all from a single manufacturer in Mexico. In an update earlier this month, the FDA said it had identified five additional brands of disinfectants that contain methanol.

The FDA sent warning letters to companies, requested the recall, and placed products on import alerts. For consumers, the agency recommends avoiding all products from any of the manufacturers listed. If you find you have one of those products, stop using it right away, throw it in a hazardous waste container (don’t throw it down the drain), seek medical attention right away if necessary, and report the case to the FDA.