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Toxic hand cleaners have blinded and killed adults and children, the FDA warns

A person holding a soap bottle and washing his hands.

Adults and children in the United States have become blind, hospitalized, and in some cases even died after drinking hand sanitizer contaminated with the extremely toxic methanol method, reports the Food and Drug Administration.

In an updated safety alert, the agency identified five additional brands of hand sanitizer containing methanol, a simple alcohol often associated with improperly distilled liquid that is toxic if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

The newly identified products are in addition to nine methanol-containing cleansers that the FDA identified last month, all of which are manufactured by Mexico-based manufacturer Eskbiochem SA de CV. According to FDA tests, one of the products contained 81

percent methanol and no ethanol, a safe alcohol commonly used in hand cleansers. At that time, the agency reported that it “does not know of any adverse event reports related to these hand disinfection products.”

However, in the current warning – last updated July 6 – the FDA said state officials have since reported to the agency’s bodies of “adults and children who have ingested methane-contaminated cleaning products that have led to adverse events including blindness, hospitalization and deaths ”.

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 signs of poisoning, and discard the products in appropriate containers with hazardous waste (do not flush them in the drain.)

Toxic products

Methanol is metabolized to formaldehyde and then to formic acid in the body. This can lead to a dangerous build up of acid in the bloodstream which damages organs and tissues, especially the optic nerve and causes visual damage and blindness. Drinking as little as 30 ml – 2 tablespoons – can be fatal for children, and even smaller amounts can cause blindness.

But drinking is not the only way that methanol causes serious harm. Inhalation or absorption of methanol through the skin can lead to the same systemic effects as have been ingested. They can manifest as nausea, vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death, the FDA says.

“Although all people who use these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidentally eat these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol substitute (ethanol) are most at risk,” the FDA said in its warning. The risks are further increased among the current COVID-19 pandemic, as many people often use hand cleansers to try to protect against the devastating new coronavirus.

The newly identified products follow:

  • Hand disinfectant gel without 70% alcohol, manufactured by Grupo Insoma, SAPI de CV (Mexico)
  • Mystic Shield Protection hand cleaner, manufactured by Transliquid Technologies (Mexico)
  • Bersih Hand Sanitizer Gel Fragrance Free, manufactured by Soluciones Cosmeticas SA de CV (Mexico)
  • Antiseptic Alcohol 70% Topical Solution hand sanitizer, manufactured 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.

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