The Food and Drug Administration is renewing warnings this week of 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 “do-not-use list” of dangerous sanitizers now includes 87 products. And with the mounting tally, the FDA also says there are rising reports from state health departments and poison control centers of injuries and deaths.
“We remain extremely concerned about the potential serious risks of alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing methanol,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn in a statement.
Good hand hygiene, which includes using hand sanitizers when hand-washing isn’t possible, is an important public health practice, especially amid the pandemic. But, Dr. Hahn said, “consumers must also be vigilant about which hand sanitizers they use, and for their health and safety we urge consumers to immediately stop using all hand sanitizers on the FDA’s list of dangerous hand sanitizer products.”
The agency reported that its ongoing testing has found sanitizers containing methanol at levels ranging from 1 percent to 80 percent. No amount of methanol is acceptable, the agency notes. The alcohol, which is metabolized to formaldehyde then to formic acid in the body, can cause systemic toxic effects if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Ingesting just two tablespoons can be fatal to small children, who may be tempted to drink sanitizers within reach. Smaller amounts can lead to permanent blindness.
States continue to report increasing reports of harms from the products, 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, investigators linked a death to 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 over toxic hand sanitizer first appeared in late June, when the FDA identified nine offending products all from one manufacturer in Mexico. In an update earlier this month, the FDA said it had identified five additional brands of methanol-containing sanitizers.
The FDA has sent companies warning letters, pushed for recalls, and placed products on import alerts. For consumers, the agency recommends avoiding all products from any of the manufacturers on the list. If you find you have one of those products, stop using it immediately, dispose of it in a hazardous waste container (do not flush it down the drain), seek medical attention promptly if necessary, and report the case to the FDA.