Warning that hand sanitizer imported from Mexico could be tainted with dangerous chemicals, the federal Food and Drug Administration has issued its first-ever “countrywide import alert for any category of drug product.”
The FDA said the import alert applies to “all alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico” in an effort to “stop products that appear to be in violation from entering the U.S. until the agency is able to review the products’ safety.”
The agency said that it has “seen a sharp increase” in hand sanitizer products from Mexico “that are labeled to contain ethanol but that have tested positive for methanol contamination.” It has flagged more than 130 potentially dangerous or ineffective hand sanitizers that flooded the market since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An FDA assessment of alcohol-based hand sanitizer imported from Mexico found that 84% of the studied samples weren’t in compliance with U.S. standards. More than half had toxic ingredients.
The warning comes as the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased demand for hand-cleaning products.
Unlike ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, which is typically used in hand sanitizers, methanol — or wood alcohol — “can be toxic when absorbed through the skin and life-threatening when ingested,” according to the FDA.
The import alert allows the agency to give heightened scrutiny to hand sanitizers imported from Mexico, possibly detaining shipments for investigation.
Just looking at the label to check for methanol isn’t enough, the FDA said, because most violators don’t admit on the label that their product is tainted with the toxin.
The FDA said hand sanitizers contaminated with methanol have caused blindness, cardiac problems, central nervous system problems, hospitalizations and death. Symptoms of exposure can include nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision or loss of vision, seizures and coma.
Merely rubbing hand sanitizer contaminated with methanol on your hands isn’t what puts you at risk of being poisoned. Ingesting it does, and that’s a risk with young kids and even with those who are older who don’t realize how dangerous drinking sanitizer can be.
“Young children who ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol substitute are most at risk,” the FDA said.
Read more at USA Today.