Since the World Health Organization first recommended frequent hand washing and hand sanitizer use to curb the spread of COVID-19, hand sanitizers have become a must-have for workers and facilities where hand washing is just not feasible. But do you really know if what’s in that bottle is safe? Let’s take a look.
On June 19, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning against a hand sanitizer manufacturer after nine of its products
were found to potentially contain methanol instead of or in addition to ethyl or isopropyl alcohols, which are approved sanitizing agents.
Since then, FDA expanded its list of potentially hazardous hand sanitizers
to 75 products and seven manufacturers that have been tested to potentially contain methanol.
Why’s Methanol Dangerous in Hand Sanitizer?
Methanol, or methyl alcohol, is a wood alcohol that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested. Therefore, methanol is NOT an approved active ingredient for hand sanitizers.
Methanol is typically used as an industrial solvent
to help create inks, resins, adhesives, and dyes.
Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk, young children who accidentally ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk for methanol poisoning.
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What to Look For
Methanol can be tricky to avoid. FDA has found most hand sanitizers that contain the hazardous substance will not list methanol as an active ingredient.
But there are steps you can take when purchasing and using sanitizing products to help ensure your team’s safety:
- Check FDA’s list of potentially hazardous hand sanitizers periodically for new additions and updates.
- Always purchase sanitizing and disinfecting products from a reputable seller. When purchasing online, check the seller’s ratings and/or reviews. Try to purchase from sellers that have a strong history of selling online.
- Look for hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% ethyl or isopropyl alcohol.
- Read the labels carefully and only use sanitizing and disinfecting products as recommended. These products should never be ingested.
- Discard any unused sanitizing and disinfecting products after their expiration date.
Can My Facility Make Our Own Hand Sanitizer?
Many businesses want to prepare alcohol-based sanitizers for public distribution or internal use, including those—like distilleries
—that are not currently licensed or registered to manufacture drugs by US FDA.
To fill this need, FDA issued temporary guidance
to assist companies who would like to now prepare hand sanitizers.
PHMSA has also extended its partial relief
from certain US DOT Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) for highway shipments of hand sanitizer. The extension notice also adds rail transportation to the policy, which previously applied to highway shipments only.
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