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March 31, 2021

Some hand sanitizer brands exceed FDA's limit on the carcinogen benzene, study finds

An independent pharmacy in Connecticut is urging the federal agency to launch its own investigation

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Benzene in hand sanitizers Luisella Planeta Leoni/Pixabay

Valisure, an independent pharmacy and lab in Connecticut, found 15 hand sanitizer brands exceed the legal limits on benzene, a carcinogen known to cause leukemia.

The current COVID-19 landscape has prompted many people to carry hand sanitizer as extra protection from the coronavirus. 

A new study, however, suggests that certain brands have the potential to do more harm than good. 

Valisure, an independent pharmacy and lab in Connecticut, found high levels of the human carcinogen benzene in several hand sanitizer products. Previous studies have shown exposure to benzene can cause blood cancers like leukemia.

When the pandemic began, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration increased the amount of benzene that manufacturers could include in liquid hand sanitizers — up to two parts per million — due to concerns over product shortages. 

Benzene usually is not found in hand sanitizer. In testing 260 batches from 168 brands, Valisure found many brands, including Purell, had no detectable trace of the carcinogen. 

But 21 batches from 15 products exceeded the FDA's limit. Three of them had benzene levels that were six to eight times higher than what the agency deems safe. 

A complete list of the hand sanitizers with high benzene levels can be found in Table 2 of this petition Valisure sent to the FDA. The products include a Star Wars Mandalorian hand sanitizer made by Best Brands Consumer Products. It contained almost double the acceptable limit.

The Walt Disney Company told CBS News that it launched an independent investigation and has directed Best Brands to withdraw the product until more is known.

Valisure has urged the FDA to conduct its own investigation and issue a recall for the brands that contain benzene.

"Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic and while it is important that consumers have access to products that help ensure personal and public safety, it is of utmost importance that consumers have access to products that are safe and not contaminated," Valisure CEO David Light said in a statement.

"The detection of hand sanitizer products that contain high levels of benzene is cause for significant concern as these products are potentially being used in high volumes several times daily by adults and children alike."

The FDA said it is reviewing the petition and continuing to monitor the hand sanitizer market, according to CBS. 

Anyone who is concerned about the benzene levels in a hand sanitizer can send a sample of the product to Valisure to be analyzed. 

The FDA previously issued a warning about hand sanitizers contaminated with methanol, which can cause serious adverse side effects if swallowed.

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