As companies and countries scramble to meet potential disinfectant shortfalls in combatting the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Methanol Institute (MI) has cautioned against using methanol (methyl alcohol) in place of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol)."Methanol is an industrial product that is toxic and should not be used in hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants where there is a risk of exposure from skin contact, inhalation or ingestion," says Gregory Dolan, CEO.
Serving as the trade association for the global methanol industry, the Methanol Institute (MI) has released a detailed fact sheet “Methanol Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic” and “FAQ” stressing that methanol is not an effective or safe product for use as a hand sanitizer or surface disinfectant to combat the COVID-19 virus.
The fact sheet was prepared for the Methanol Institute by Gradient, an environmental and risk sciences firm.
Like ethanol and isopropanol, methanol is also an alcohol. However, methanol cannot be used as a hand sanitizer or surface disinfectant because it breaks down and produces different chemicals in the body. Ethanol produces acetate in the body, isopropanol produces acetone in the body, and methanol produces formic acid in the body, which is more toxic and harmful than those produced by the other alcohols.
Ethanol and isopropanol are the alcohols approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) for disinfection in health care settings, registered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for use in alcohol-based hand rub formulations.
Methanol ineffective and dangerous
Apart from methanol being much more toxic than ethyl or isopropyl alcohols thus having the potential to cause bodily harm when it comes in contact with skin, is swallowed, or is inhaled, public health agencies have also reported that methanol has a weak ability to kill viruses when compared to other alcohols and is less effective than other alcohols.
The use of methanol as the main ingredient in hand sanitizer has not been approved or recommended by any governmental authority. There are currently no regulatory safe levels for methanol in hand sanitizers or disinfectants. In the United States, products containing more than 4 percent methanol must be labeled as “poison.”
In Europe, products may contain up to 5 percent methanol in cosmetic and personal hygiene products. Methanol is an impurity sometimes present in ethanol, and therefore, small amounts can be present in ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers or rubs.
Product specifications limit the amount of methanol in ethyl alcohol to 0.5 percent or 0.2 mL/L. Because methanol is an impurity in ethyl alcohol, it is not listed as an active ingredient on the product label.
Drinking methanol will not cure or protect adults or children from COVID-19 or other viruses and instead may cause serious harm including blindness and death if people drink methanol or methanol-containing beverages.
Methanol is an emerging clean energy fuel and an essential building block for hundreds of products, from paints and plastics to car parts and construction materials. Methanol is an industrial product that is toxic and should not be used in hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants where there is a risk of exposure from skin contact, inhalation or ingestion, explained said Gregory Dolan, CEO of MI.