Hand sanitizers not so handy to use

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If one takes the time to search on Health Canada website, they state that washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is still the most effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19. But if that method is unavailable, the use of hand sanitizers is recommended.

I suspect the public is unaware that prior to the pandemic, hand sanitizers contained food-grade ethanol. Since then, the federal government has allowed manufacturers to incorporate technical grade 70 per cent ethanol, which is intended to be used as a surface disinfectant (not for hands).

The difference is that technical grade 70 per cent ethanol contains impurities, one of which is acetaldehyde. It’s toxic and poses a health risk to humans which if the liver doesn’t break down and dispose of it. The developing fetus and infant’s liver lack the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde. It’s uncertain when the infant produces this enzyme. That’s why all baby products are required to be alcohol-free.


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It’s more expensive but safer to use food-grade because the impurities have been removed.

On the Health Canada website, you will also find that technical grade 70 per cent ethanol was allowed by manufacturers in their hand sanitizers but only if the label clearly states they cannot be used by children, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Furthermore, Health Canada states that if the label reads that children can use the hand sanitizer under adult supervision, it must be removed from the directions or covered up.

I have personally inspected the hand sanitizer bottles at the hospital, public health unit, library, dental offices, pharmacies, retail outlets, car dealerships in the Chatham-Kent area and I have yet to see one bottle with these warnings. In fact, all of them state they could be used by children under the supervision of an adult, despite the fact they all had an NPN 8 digit code on the label. That’s the mark of approval by Health Canada.

There are over 4,000 hand sanitizers listed on Health Canada’s site that have been given approval, and hundreds have been recalled so far due to either negligent labelling or the use of toxic substances.

According to their standards, all of the hand sanitizers being used in Chatham-Kent should also be recalled.

What is most concerning is that the school board is mandating that all schools apply these hand sanitizers to the children attending. Unfortunately, I was unable to inspect the hand sanitizers in use in the schools because I was not allowed inside.


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It’s unfortunate that the federal government prioritizes the employment of thousands of new inspectors to mandate the use of ineffective masks and social distancing practices but doesn’t consider adequate inspection of toxic hand sanitizers (with technical grade ethanol) that is harming our babies and children a priority. Clearly, either the Health Protection Bureau is understaffed or negligent. I hope it’s the former.

Everyone must begin reading labels on these hand sanitizer bottles and to resort to safer alternatives like hand soap and water.

And I sincerely hope that parents of school-age children reach out to their school officials and reconsider the use of these toxic hand sanitizers.

There is a very safe alternative (available in liquid form and as a bar) called castile soap. It’s also inexpensive.

Carmel Marentette


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