Coronavirus: Study finds carcinogen benzene in 44 hand sanitizers produced during pandemic

A study by an independent pharmacy and lab found benzene, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer, in 44 brands of hand sanitizer.

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Valisure, a Connecticut-based pharmacy, found benzene, a carcinogen linked to certain cancers, in multiple batches of the sanitizers it tested.

“Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic and while it is important that consumers have access to products that help ensure personal and public safety, it is of utmost importance that consumers have access to products that are safe and not contaminated,” David Light, the company’s founder, said in a statement. “The detection of hand sanitizer products that contain high levels of benzene is cause for significant concern as these products are potentially being used in high volumes several times daily by adults and children alike.”

Hand sanitizers are considered a drug product regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. While the FDA has issued recalls on hand sanitizers containing methanol, products with benzene have not been previously identified, the lab said.

The lab is asking the FDA to recall the contaminated hand cleaners and update its accepted exposure limit to the chemical.

“Some of the highly contaminated batches appear to be specifically formulated and marketed for children,” the lab said.

The most contaminated hand sanitizers were produced by companies Artnaturals, Scentsational Soaps and Candles Inc., The Creme Shop and Mandalorian-themed bottles from Best Brands Consumer Products.

The products tested started selling in April or May 2020. Most of the products were made either in the U.S. or China. A small portion of them were from Mexico.

The benzene could have appeared in the products during the manufacturing process. The chemical is typically removed when alcohol is purified, but it might not have been in these cases. Another chemical called carbomer, which often contains benzene, could have been used in the gel sanitizers to make the liquid thicker.

Benzene is not the first harmful chemical found in hand sanitizers pumped out during the pandemic.

A high level of methanol was also found in hand cleaners. Methanol, or wood alcohol, when absorbed through the skin, can cause nausea, seizure and blindness. If ingested it can cause death, health officials warn.

In January, the FDA prohibited imports of hand cleaners from Mexico because they contained high levels of methanol. Last year, the agency recalled hundreds of brands of cleaners contaminated with the chemical.

“The agency reminds manufacturers, distributors, repackagers and importers they are responsible for the quality of their products and urges manufacturers to test their ingredients to ensure they meet specifications and are free from harmful contamination,” agency spokesman Jeremy Kahn told Bloomberg.