Manufacturers, Importers and Distributors of alcohol-based handrubs/sanitisers - Serious health hazards posed by use of Methanol in handrubs and sanitisers

It has come to the attention of the Ministry of Health (MOH), that there is local production of one or more brands of alcohol-based handrubs/sanitisers which may contain methanol or similar toxic substances. It should be noted that the presence of this ingredient in handrubs/sanitisers poses serious health risks to the public. 

As part of the national drive to safeguard the health of the Trinidad and Tobago population in the face of the global Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the MOH wishes to advise that all local manufacturers, importers and distributors of alcohol-based handrubs/sanitisers should seek prior approval from the Chemistry Food and Drugs Division (CFDD), MOH. This is to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations of Trinidad and Tobago. 

The MOH hereby advises that alcohol-based handrubs/sanitisers should contain the chemical formulation and properties that will provide the necessary protection to consumers. The World Health Organization’s guidelines recommend 60 to 80 percent alcohol (either ethanol, isopropanol or a combination) for handrubs/sanitisers as these are generally most effective. 

The MOH further advises the industry that methanol should not be used in the production of alcohol-based handrubs/sanitisers because it is highly toxic, and can result in severe systemic toxicity after oral, pulmonary and/or skin exposures. It is commonly known that methanol, when absorbed on the skin can cause irritation and inflammation and unintentional ingestion can be fatal. This is according to an article by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health entitled, ‘‘Methanol as an Unlisted Ingredient in Supposedly Alcohol-Based Hand Rub Can Pose Serious Health Risk” published in July 2018, (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6069146/).

To guarantee the continued protection of the national population, the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) and the CFDD are actively collaborating to ensure that locally distributed alcohol-based handrubs/sanitisers meet the minimum requirements, based on the international guidelines and standards, as it is a critical part of the national hand hygiene advisory. 

According to the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations Chapter 30:01 (14) any person who sells any cosmetic which (a) has in or upon it any substance that may cause injury to the health of the user when the cosmetic is used - (i) according to the directions on the label or accompanying the cosmetic... is guilty of an offence. It should be noted that persons who breach the law will be liable to fines or imprisonment. 

To address this infraction, the MOH in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Industry via the TTBS, and the Consumer Affairs Division as well as the Trinidad and Tobago Fair Trading Commission, will continue to maintain heightened vigilance and monitor the labelling of these products. These regulatory entities will also collaborate and implement the respective enforcement action, inclusive of applying the existing legal framework, to stem the prohibited use of methanol or similar toxic substances in alcohol-based handrubs/ sanitisers. 

The MOH assures the public that all steps are being taken at the national level to safeguard the health of the Trinidad and Tobago population. This includes preventing persons and/or organisations from attempting to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic, by exploiting the vulnerabilities of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. 

The MOH as well as the other regulatory entities urge all local importers, distributors and local manufacturers to act responsibly especially in this current circumstance posed by COVID-19.

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