UNITED STATES – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has counted at least 17 deaths from tainted hand sanitizer this year, as demand for the product continues to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bombshell report was released by FairWarning, a non-profit investigative news site, on Oct. 1.
The report also said the “disturbing trend” includes thousands injured from toxic sanitizer exposure, adding some who ingested the substance had gone permanently blind from the poison.
“A 44-year-old man in the Southwest, seeking medical treatment after his vision suddenly deteriorated in late spring, admitted that he had been drinking hand sanitizer for a few days,” the FairWarning report said. “Blood tests revealed he had been poisoned by methanol, an extremely toxic form of alcohol that is never supposed to be used in consumer products like hand sanitizer. Despite treatment, he was left permanently blind.”
In some places, poison control centers have reported their sanitizer-related cases had more than doubled since COVID-19 hit the America.
“Last year, from May through late August, the Phoenix center treated 81 patients who had ingested hand sanitizer,” the FairWarning report said. “This year that figure reached 205 in the same period. And in 25 of those cases, toxicologists suspected or confirmed that the patients had ingested methanol.”
As of Oct. 5 the FDA had recalled 203 toxic hand sanitizers, most of which contain potential methanol or propanol contamination. According to their report on July 20, the “agency has seen a sharp increase” in products labeled to contain ethanol, but have tested positive for methanol contamination.
“Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when ingested,” the FDA statement said. “The agency is aware of adults and children ingesting hand sanitizer products contaminated with methanol that has led to recent adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death.”
Methanol is often used to create fuel and antifreeze. Since the agency began reporting on the contaminations in June, at least 17 deaths have been reported in association with tainted hand sanitizer.
Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner at the FDA who is now the president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, recently told NBC News that the toxic hand sanitizers ended up on store shelves in the U.S. after companies started breaking usual procedures ensuring product safety, particularly to meet current market demands.
“When you’re in a large company or a small company and you’re buying products in bulk, as sanitizer is purchased, you want to understand the provenance of that product—where it was manufactured, whether or not it’s been approved under good manufacturing standards brought by the FDA—and clearly that was simply ignored,” he said.
But while some companies are looking to cut corners, some are looking to the FDA and World Health Organization when formulating their sanitizers. One veteran-owned small business, which produces a 75% isopropyl alcohol-based sanitizer in Indianapolis, IN., recently encouraged consumers to remain vigilant during the COVID-19 crisis.
“While we know our USA made sanitizer is safe, that’s not the case with all products on the market currently,” SaniGo Business Development Manager Jordan Mendenhall said. “If you can’t find SaniGo, we would hope that any consumer would do their research before trying a new hand-rub. In this case, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.”
The FDA’s investigation of methanol and other contaminates in hand sanitizers is ongoing. The agency will provide additional information as it becomes available. The full list of recalled hand sanitizer can be found HERE.
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