FDA warns about toxic hand sanitizers, 14 now on the list

The Food and Drug Administration says it has seen a sharp increase in sanitizer products that have tested positive for methanol contamination.
MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hand sanitizer has become a safety staple during the pandemic, with people slathering it on everywhere they go.

"I think sanitizer is very important. I use it right away after I get gas, when I touch the carts at the store," says Merced resident Alma Escobar.

Alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60% ethanol are recommended when soap and water are not readily available. But now the Food and Drug Administration says it has seen a sharp increase in sanitizer products that have tested positive for methanol contamination.

"Methanol itself is a neurotoxin, and it affects and sometimes kills nerve cells in the body. So as the methanol is absorbed through your skin, which is the largest organ of your body, it enters your circulation, and it can interact with nerve cells in your brain and especially in the eyes," says Dr. Valerie Albano, a biology professor at Merced College.

She says methanol can lead to severe symptoms.

"Somebody who has methanol toxicity will start demonstrating first some nausea, headaches, maybe vomiting, and then as time goes on, with increased toxicity you'll see blurred vision and potentially even blindness."

The FDA says while the contaminated products can be dangerous when applied to the skin, they've also led to hospitalizations and death among children and adults who drank the liquid. The agency's latest list includes 14 sanitizers that have tested positive for methanol. They were all manufactured by companies based in Mexico.

Action News checked multiple stores in Merced and did not find those brands.

The FDA has recommended recalls for the contaminated products and others made at the same facilities.

Click here to find the list of hand sanitizers the FDA is warning consumers not to buy.
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