(NEXSTAR) – The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that all alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico are under a nationwide “import alert” to allow authorities to ensure the safety of consumers.
The FDA said in a news release Tuesday that there has been a spike during the pandemic of sanitizers from Mexico that claim to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol), but were really made with methanol, or wood alcohol. The substance can be toxic when ingested or absorbed through the skin.
The import alert allows the FDA to detain shipments of Mexican-origin sanitizers for further investigation. It’s the first time the FDA has ever issued a countrywide import alert for any category of drug product.
The FDA began testing sanitizers from Mexico in April, 2020 and found that 84% of the samples analyzed through December didn’t meet the FDA’s regulations.
More than half of those samples “were found to contain toxic ingredients, including methanol and/or 1-propanol, at dangerous levels.” The FDA has a running list of sanitizer brands you should avoid.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there have already been more than 900 reported hand sanitizer exposure cases in the United States in the first ten days of January alone, up 57% from the same period last year.
“Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, especially when soap and water are not accessible, and the availability of poor-quality products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients will not be tolerated,” said Judy McMeekin, Pharm.D., FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. “Today’s actions are necessary to protect the safe supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to ensure the availability of safe products and to communicate vital information with the health and safety of U.S. consumers in mind.”
The FDA warns that although people using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol substitute are most at-risk.
Methanol poisoning can lead to blindness, cardiac arrest, hospitalization and even death.