“Consumers and healthcare providers should not use hand sanitizers that contain methanol,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD in a statement on July 2. “The FDA remains committed to working with manufacturers, drug manufacturers, state pharmacy boards and the public to increase the safe supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. “
The abrupt increase in demand for hand sanitizer has made it a profitable pandemic business venture. Yet the possibility of putting methanol in certain hand sanitizers could have serious and sometimes fatal consequences.
“It has a number of toxic effects, nausea, vomiting, headache, blindness and coma,” Aline Holmes, a professor of nursing at the Rutgers University School of Nursing, told Salon Salon. . “It is particularly deadly for children because even if they touch each other a little, it could be absorbed by their skin. They put everything in their mouth, so even if they accidentally got it on their hands and they put in their mouths, it could be very deadly. ”
According to a study published in 2017 in the Annals of occupational and environmental medicine, an estimated oral dose of 3.2 to 11.9 grams of pure methanol is sufficient to cause blindness. A lethal dose due to respiratory intake would be between 4000 and 13000 mg. “Methanol can be readily absorbed during exposure through respiration, skin, and the gastrointestinal tract,” the researchers wrote. “Even a low dose of pure oral or respiratory methanol can be fatal or cause blindness as a clinical symptom. ”
Holmes explained that ingesting methanol is the most dangerous, but just rubbing it on your hands and having the chemical absorbed through your skin can be almost as bad.
“Even if you just get it on your skin, it can be absorbed through your skin – and the way it’s metabolized in your body can lead to blindness, death, or stroke,” Holmes said.
The FDA explains in its press release that in June, the agency warned consumers on products made by Eskbiochem, which contained methanol. Since then, several Eskbiochem distributors have issued remember.
“I was surprised that there was any type of methanol – or as we call wood alcohol – in hand sanitizers,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine preventive therapy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Methanol can make you very, very sick, with nausea, vomiting and headaches… You can have central nervous system toxicity with seizures.
Why would companies do this if it is so dangerous? Go after ignorance or the companies trying to take advantage of this moment. The FDA commissioner believes that producers “are taking advantage of the increased use of hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic and putting their lives at risk by selling products containing dangerous and unacceptable ingredients.” The FDA also said that during the pandemic, poison control centers have had an increase in calls about accidental ingestion of hand sanitizer.
Dr Stephen S. Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told Salon by email that methanol has a long history of being replaced when ethanol is not available.
“You used to hear about … alcoholics who filtered alcohol from Sterno cans (used to keep food warm) because they couldn’t afford anything else,” said Morse. “Many would go blind as a result, and some would die. “
Dr. Morse added, “Methanol is cheaper than ethanol, and is not taxed, but for many purposes simply cannot be substituted for other alcohols. “
Public health officials still recommend that consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol. Especially during the pandemic, hand sanitizer is still a great substitute if you can’t wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. The FDA has said that if the hand sanitizer says it is “FDA approved,” that could be a red flag because no hand sanitizer is FDA approved.
Indeed, as Dr. Schaffner said at Salon, one way to avoid contaminated hand sanitizers is to stick to brands that are “well known”. Many people have also tried making their own hand sanitizer, although not everyone is in favor of do-it-yourself formulas.