Methanol Poisoning from Hand Sanitizers

Methanol Poisoning from Hand Sanitizers

The pandemic has created many problems for our society including limited contact with loved ones, not being able to work to support ourselves, and not being able to find essential items like toilet paper, soap, and hand sanitizer. Some companies stepped up and started making hand sanitizer so people can protect themselves, but some of the products being sold are dangerous. With so many people frantically buying products they could be endangering their families’ lives instead of protecting them.

Methanol, a toxic substance that can kill and cause blindness is being found in many hand sanitizers coming from Mexico. When making alcohol for hand sanitizer or for consumption, methanol is produced in small quantities. When consuming wine and beer, people are consuming methanol, but it is such a small quantity that it is safe. When companies make spirits, they are able to remove the methanol from the final product, so the only thing left is ethanol. When companies make alcohol-based products improperly though, methanol content in the final product can be amplified, making a dangerous product unfit for consumer use.

There are reports coming from poison control centers and health departments where people are becoming injured and are dying from using bad hand sanitizer. This is making the FDA compile a list of hand sanitizers that contain enough methanol to be toxic and deadly. Using hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available is very important, but when there are large quantities of hand sanitizer, it can be tricky to find the safest option. Methanol is dangerous because it can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin and then metabolized and turned into formaldehyde, which is then turned into formic acid. If two tablespoons of the contaminated sanitizer is ingested, it would be enough to kill a small child or blind them with a smaller amount.

Methanol poisonings can be very bad with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, nervous system damage, heart problems, and death. The FDA has sent letters to the sanitizer companies, as well as push for recalls and create alerts to protect consumers. If you are using one of the hand sanitizers found to contain methanol, stop using it immediately. If you are experiencing one of the symptoms mentioned above after using one of the dangerous sanitizers, speak with a physician to see what you need to do next. Finally, find a safe and reputable hand sanitizer brand that you trust.

Beth Mole, “Mounting poisonings, blindness, deaths as toxic hand sanitizers flood market” Ars Technica (July 28, 2020). [Link]
Stephen Pincock, “A drink to die for? Avoiding methanol poisoning” ABC News Australia (September 10, 2013). [Link]

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