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Upstate NY Poison Center warns of serious side effects from certain hand sanitizers

Upstate New York Poison Center

Since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, calls about hand sanitizer have been increasing at the Upstate New York Poison Center. Those calls have ratcheted up even more in recent weeks because of some dangerous hand sanitizer on the market. 

Since mid-July, the Center has received about 50 calls about a hand sanitizer that contains methanol, also known as wood alcohol. Poison Center spokeswoman Gail Banach said it’s not an approved substance for use in hand sanitizer, and can lead to serious consequences, beyond simply getting sick.

"The additional step is you could go blind, you could go into a coma, you could have seizures,” Banach said. “If anyone even thinks there’s a possibility they got into this product, they would want to call the poison center right away.”

Banach said one of the big problems with these products, is there’s no way for consumers to tell if a hand sanitizer includes methanol, because it’s not on the ingredient panel. The FDA has a list of companies and products and posted a do-not-use list of dangerous products. Legal hand sanitizers don’t get off the hook from poison experts either. Banach noted the number of calls about any kind of hand sanitizer has doubled the first half of this year, many about children ingesting what can be an attractive item.

"Kids are curious,” Banach said. “They’re going to want to get into it. Plus, they see their parents and brothers and sisters using it to clean their hands, and they’re moving their hands like it’s a game. They want to do it too.”

Banach advises parents of young children to keep all hand sanitizer out of sight.

“You don’t want to keep it sitting in your car or your purse,” Banach said. “Because even hand sanitizer with ethyl alcohol can be dangerous to kids, but with methanol, more dangerous.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.