At least 17 people have died and thousands were injured from exposure to hand sanitizer made with the toxic chemical methanol amid a coronavirus-fueled demand for the germ-fighting gel, according to a report.
The disturbing trend includes cases of users — some of whom ingested the substance — going blind, becoming poisoned and being hospitalized throughout the US this year, an investigation by the nonprofit news site FairWarning.com found.
Hand sanitizers tainted with the dangerous wood-alcohol compound were rushed into stores amid a shortage of ethanol — a safer chemical used to make the product — as the pandemic raged earlier this year, according to the report.
But despite the unsettling number of deaths — along with 2,000 reports of illnesses or injuries — the US Food and Drug Administration has no authority to force recalls of over-the-counter drugs such as hand sanitizers, according to the report.
“I think consumers would be shocked to learn that the FDA doesn’t have authority to pull those products,” said Michael Carome, director of the Health Research Group at the advocacy organization Public Citizen.
In one case, a 44-year-old man in the Southwest was left permanently blind after drinking hand sanitizer made with methanol last spring. Five more adults were poisoned by the substance in May and June, according to toxicologists.
“[It’s] absolutely clear that there was something circulating in our state,” said Steven Seifert, medical director of the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center.
Methanol-tainted hand sanitizers hit the shelves at shops across the US, including Dollar Tree, where it was sold as the store brand, according to the report.
In another case, sanitizer from a Mexican company, Soluciones Cosméticas — which sells Bersih brand — was found to be contaminated with methanol after it was seized at the border by customs agents.
Another Mexican producer, Eskbiochem, made nine different methanol-tainted sanitizers that were sold in the US, according to the FDA.
The FDA warned customers about the dangers of hand sanitizers made with methanol, asked companies to pull it from the shelves, and vowed to continue seizing products at the border.
FDA officials declined comment on whether the agency should have recall authority over hand sanitizer, but called safety its “top priority.”
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