Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
It is hard to believe that Spring 2020 was almost two years ago. The empty grocery store shelves and panic buying of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and canned foods feels like both a lifetime ago and also just yesterday. Many actions of that season have had reverberating effects – namely, the panic buying and unparalleled demand for those products.
Hand sanitizer, something that we were told we needed to stay safe and healthy, flew off the shelves faster than major manufacturers could produce it. This led the Trump administration to relax certain regulations and issue emergency guidance to allow producers to ramp up production and help meet the record demand. This was a reasonable approach at the time, as we had severe shortages of hand sanitizer and many stores had none to sell; however, it also led to lax practices in refilling, distributing and labeling hand sanitizers, and even dangerous and harmful products ending up in the hands of Americans. Now that we are almost on the other side of the pandemic, and businesses have their doors back open, the FDA needs to issue guidance on bulk distribution of hand sanitizer, to protect American citizens who are still relying on hand sanitizer for some measure of safety.
Just this month, hand sanitizer manufacturer ArtNaturals had to recall hand sanitizer due to high amounts of “benzene, acetaldehyde and acetal contaminants,” and these are products that are being used on college campuses and in businesses.
Terrifyingly, benzene is linked to blood cancers, including leukemia, and is considered a high-risk carcinogen, and it is being given to Americans, unbeknownst to them. Many businesses purchased hand sanitizer in bulk — in gallon jugs — and then used it to refill existing branded hand sanitizer dispensers. The branded hand sanitizer was effective and safe, but in many instances the bulk sanitizer used to refill the branded dispensers was neither safe, nor effective.
The businesses who did this were not guilty of bad intent. But the effect was nonetheless harmful to the public, as they thought they were protecting themselves and reducing risk to themselves and others when, in fact, they were doing nothing to combat the virus, and even making themselves more at risk for other, more dangerous diseases like cancer.
As Americans are back out in the world and our economy begins to ramp back up, both students and consumers need to know that the hand sanitizer they are using at businesses they visit is effective and won’t put them at risk for other diseases.
Hopefully, we are overcoming the pandemic, and the crisis will soon be in our past. But hand sanitizer isn’t merely useful in combatting COVID-19. The common cold and the flu can be combatted with effective hand hygiene that includes reliable hand sanitizer. The flu season is coming and having access to safe and effective hand sanitizer is important, even if the risk of COVID-19 is decreasing.
Studies have shown that to effectively kill germs and viruses, the alcohol content needs to be at least 60 percent. Generally, more is better. Some have said that it shouldn’t be less than 70 percent. But there can be no doubt or disagreement that hand sanitizer should not contain known carcinogens at such high levels that their use is actually harmful and exposes people to an increased risk of cancer.
So, the FDA was correct to withdraw the emergency guidance and return to the previous and well-established standards, but the FDA now also must make sure that schools, retailers, restaurants, healthcare facilities, and other frontline businesses are providing safe and effective products, that includes advising against the practice of topping off refillable dispensers with dangerous, mislabeled and ineffective products.
Current science suggests that COVID-19, like the flu, will not be completely eradicated. Thus, we will have to mitigate their impact and harm. U.S. business owners have been through so much, and they fought to stay open, with the hope that they will have the necessary tools to keep their patrons safe. One effective way is through proper hand hygiene, which clearly includes having access to effective and safe hand sanitizer.
George Landrith is the President of Frontiers of Freedom, an educational foundation whose mission is to promote the principles of individual freedom, peace through strength, limited government, free enterprise, free markets, and traditional American values as found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.