Adults and children in the United States have been blinded, hospitalized, and, in some cases, even died after drinking hand sanitizers contaminated with the extremely toxic alcohol methanol, the Food and Drug Administration reports.
In an updated safety warning, the agency identified five more brands of hand sanitizer that contain methanol, a simple alcohol often linked to incorrectly distilled liquor that is poisonous if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.
The newly identified products are in addition to nine methanol-containing sanitizers the FDA identified last month, which are all made by the Mexico-based manufacturer Eskbiochem SA de CV. According to FDA testing, one of the products contained 81 percent methanol and no ethanol, a safe alcohol typically used in hand sanitizers. At the time, the agency reported that it was “not aware of any reports of adverse events associated with these hand sanitizer products.”
However, in the current warning—last updated July 6—the FDA said that state officials have since reported to the agency instances of “adults and children ingesting hand sanitizer products contaminated with methanol that has led to recent adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death.”
The FDA is pushing for recalls. In the meantime, the agency advises consumers to stop using the products immediately, seek immediate care if there are any signs of poisoning, and dispose of the products in appropriate hazardous waste containers (don’t flush them down the drain.)
Methanol is metabolized to formaldehyde, then to formic acid inside the body. This can lead to a dangerous buildup of acid in the bloodstream that damages organs and tissues, particularly the optic nerve, causing vision impairment and blindness. Drinking as little as 30 milliliters—2 tablespoons—may be lethal to children, and even smaller amounts can cause blindness.
But drinking isn’t the only way methanol causes severe harms. Inhaling or absorbing methanol through the skin can lead to the same systemic effects seen from ingestion. Those can manifest as nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system, or death, the FDA notes.
“Although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidently ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk,” the FDA said in its warning. Risks are heightened further amid the current COVID-19 pandemic since many people are using hand sanitizer more frequently to try to protect against the devastating new coronavirus.
The newly identified products are as followed:
- Hand sanitizer Gel Unscented 70% Alcohol, made by Grupo Insoma, S.A.P.I de CV (Mexico)
- Mystic Shield Protection hand sanitizer, made by Transliquid Technologies (Mexico)
- Bersih Hand Sanitizer Gel Fragrance Free, made by Soluciones Cosmeticas SA de CV (Mexico)
- Antiseptic Alcohol 70% Topical Solution hand sanitizer, made by Soluciones Cosmeticas SA de CV (Mexico)
- Britz Hand Sanitizer Ethyl Alcohol 70%, made by Tropicosmeticos SA de CV (Mexico)
The full list of product codes can be found here.