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Girl Suffers Third-degree Burns After Hand Sanitizer Ignites, Causes Fire

February 21, 2013 By Kyle Richardson
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An 11-year-old girl suffered third-degree burns earlier this month when a mixture of hand sanitizer and olive oil caught fire. Ireland Lane, who was being treated for a head injury at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Ore., suffered burns on her chest, neck and arms when the solution caught fire and ignited her T-shirt.

Lane, who had been diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2007, was working on an arts-and-crafts project on the hospital bed and had been using the hospital's hand sanitizer. Residual olive oil, used to remove the adhesive from electrodes, is believed to have dripped onto her hands and shirt. According to the Oregon State Fire Marshal, static electricity from the hospital bedding and the child's shirt caused a spark, which started the fire.

"We found that given the mixture of the olive oil and the hand sanitizer on the cotton shirt, it was like a candle wick that was easily ignited by the static that was in the bedding and the clothing in her room," said investigating fire marshal Daniel Jones.

Reports of static electric shocks causing fire, and of hand sanitizer igniting, are both extremely rare but not unheard of in hospital settings. In 2006, a nurse caught on fire when a spark from an oxygen flow meter ignited wet sanitizer on her hands.

Many hand sanitizers contain ethyl alcohol as the active ingredient. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all sanitizers include at least 60 percent alcohol as the primary antiseptic, with some products containing levels up to 85 percent. By law, hand sanitizers are required to print  drug facts indicating the percent of alcohol and that the product is flammable. Officials at Doernbecher Children's Hospital said their sanitizer contained the recommended 60 percent alcohol.

While all alcohol is flammable, the chance of the liquid alcohol or alcohol fumes from hand sanitizer igniting is extremely low. The alcohol would need to reach its flash point temperature (72 degrees for 60 percent alcohol) and then be exposed to an ignition source, and even then it would not produced prolongued burning.

According to the fire marshal, what happened to Lane was due to several unfortunate circumstances. He said the saniziter could have ignited but would not have set the shirt on fire without the presence of oil, and the oil would not have caught fire at that temperature unless the sanitizer acted as a catalyst.

Although occurrences like this are not common, distributors of promotional hand sanitizer should be aware that an product containing alcohol could potentially be flammable. To protect customers, distributors ensure that the suppliers they use include a drug facts label on each product to ensure FDA compliance and public safety.


 

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