Anyone who has spent time in a doctor’s office or hospital recently has seen canisters of hand sanitizer in prominent locations. A girl in Oregon recently suffered serious burns and hand sanitizer is being investigated as a potential cause. The situation is calling the safety of the sanitizer into question. The investigation is looking into the possibility that the fire was caused by the simple combination of a static electricity shock and hand sanitizer with a high alcohol content. Such a combination could be possible in countless facilities across the country.
The 11-year-old girl was in a hospital bed when the accident occurred. The fire ignited and burned her on 12 percent of her body. She received reconstructive skin grafts to treat the burns. It is not clear whether static electricity provided the spark that lit the fire. The incident is still under investigation.
Hand sanitizers vary in the ingredients used. Some use alcohol for its germ-killing properties. Alcohol is obviously flammable and should be kept away from sources of ignition. It is rare, however, for such a fire to be started by static electricity. That such a thing could be possible should draw the attention of both the makers of hand sanitizer and the businesses that provide access to the product. Consumers need to be made aware of the potential dangers and of the proper ways to use hand sanitizer.
A member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department indicated that hand sanitizer should be used in well-ventilated areas and that people using the product need to be aware of potential ignition sources. In addition, children need special protection as they may not understand the danger of a product that contains alcohol.
Source: 4 NBC Southern California, “Safe Use of Hand Sanitizer Urged After Girl Burned at Hospital,” by John Cadiz Klemack and Julie Brayton, 21 February 2013