Minnesota health officials are warning the public about the danger of methanol — wood alcohol — in some hand sanitizers, following a similar caution from the Food and Drug Administration.

New Mexico has counted three deaths because of ingestion of sanitizers that contained methanol, according to the Associated Press, which said the three cases were related to alcoholism.

The FDA said earlier this month that methanol is not a safe or suitable hand sanitizer active ingredient and that products using it should never be used. It also issued a list of products containing methanol.

Methanol ingestion can cause permanent blindness and sometimes death, according to Hennepin Healthcare emergency physician Dr. Travis Olives, who works with the Minnesota Poison Control System.

“The FDA has seen a drastic increase in hand sanitizer products labeled as containing ethanol — but they are actually testing positive for methanol contamination,” Olives said.

There is a low risk of poisoning from using sanitizer containing methanol on skin. It’s most deadly when ingested. Anyone who has done so should immediately call the Minnesota Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222.

“While it’s important to use sanitizers for hand hygiene,” Olives said, “it’s essential that these products are kept out of the sight and reach of young children and that adults always provide supervision during use.”

Symptoms of methanol poisoning include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lethargy, confusion, weakness and visual disturbances, according to the Minnesota Poison Control System.


Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report for America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation.