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Hand sanitizer can ignite if left in a hot vehicle: Alberta doctors

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EDMONTON –
Doctors at Alberta Health Services say people using hand sanitizer when they are out shouldn’t leave it in their cars for too long because it could lead to a fire.

The advice comes in a daily COVID-19 newsletter distributed to physicians, volunteers and staff by AHS president Dr. Verna Yui and senior medical health officer Dr. Laura McDougall.

They say handwashing with soap and warm water is still the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But they note that’s not always practical or possible when outside the home or in a workplace.

With hand sanitizer being in short supply, many breweries, distilleries and community-based companies have started making their own with high alcohol content.

Yui and McDougall say not to store any hand sanitizer in your car for long periods of time.

“With extended exposure to high temperatures, the alcohol in the hand sanitizer will eventually evaporate, causing it to lose its efficacy,” Yui and McDougall wrote in the Thursday newsletter. “Additionally, there is a potential fire risk to storing hand sanitizer in your car.

“In extreme heat, it can ignite due to its high alcohol content.”

A spokesman with AHS says he hasn’t heard of any hand sanitizer fires in Alberta, noting it’s just a general warning.

There are, however, cases cited in medical journals – including one from 2011 of a health-care worker who was burned when she lit a cigarette after using hand sanitizer.

The National Fire Protection Association in the United States also issued a warning in mid-April about the possibility, although it notes there must be an ignition source for a fire to occur. It said spontaneous combustion is highly unlikely unless a vehicle were to reach extreme temperatures.

Health officials in Alberta also recommend people not ingest hand sanitizer and keep it out of the reach of children.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 22, 2020

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