The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtably changed the way that we interact, behave and take care of ourselves. The phrase, “the new normal” has been used to describe the changing circumstances of our world since the beginning of the outbreak.
The new normal.
Only now however, once we’ve begun to experience what living in a world affected by a persistent pandemic looks like, can we probably truly understand what that really means. Mainly, the use of face masks, hands washing and the consistent use of hand sanitizer are our main combatants to the virus, and have become so much a part of our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine not reaching for that hand sanitizer on your way into a store.
Katie Wise, a mother from outside Austin Texas, discovered that sometimes caution is needed when using hand sanitizer.
The reason why hand sanitizer works so effectively agains both bacteria and viruses is because of its high alcohol content.
“Often used on the go, hand sanitizers contain ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol or both to kill bacteria and viruses on your hands. Alcohols have long been known to kill germs by denaturing the protective outer proteins of microbes and dissolving their membranes.” -Cnet.com
In other words, the alcohol breaks up the structures of bacteria and virus, killing them. The problem with high-alcohol substances (as anyone who’s ever had a flaming sambuca shot will tell you), is that it’s highly volatile, meaning that it creates vapours which can be highly flammable when they turn from a liquid into a gas.
Wise found out the hard way, that hand sanitizer too, can be highly flammable.
According to Inside Edition, Katie Wise was preparing a bedtime movie for herself and her two children, when her recently sanitized hands caught fire. When the bottle itself caught fire and subsequently exploded, she was left with terrible burns all over her face, hands, legs and stomach.
“I just remember them screaming and saying “Mom’s on fire, Mom’s on fire!””-Katie told Inside Edition
It’s unclear how the flame got from her hands back to the bottle of sanitizer, but when the liquid inside exploded, it created a shower of flammable liquid. Her house was left charred, and she was rushed to the emergency room.
Katie is now recovering from her injuries, but is in consistent pain.
With severe burns covering most of her body, she is recovering, but the pain is constant and unrelenting.
Michael Uttaro, Fire Marshall of Nassau County, New York warns about the dangers of flammable vapours from volitile liquids like hand sanitizer.
“In the drying process, that vapor is coming off of your hands. This is the time that you need to be most cautious that you’re not near any source of ignition.” – Uttaro to Inside Edition
The fire department illustrates how the sanitizer sustains a flame.
In a shallow dish, we can see how a little bit of sanitizer can hold a flame as it evaporates into the air. This is an important illustration of how using hand sanitizer, while essential, should be done with caution. Uttaro’s advice is to purchase sanitizers produced by a reputable brand, and stay far away from open sources of flame like candles or stove-tops when using these products.
Now, before anybody panics, it’s important to remember that hand sanitizer is an essential part of sanitizing hands when soap and water aren’t available.
Is it dangerous? Well, only about as dangerous as that bottle of vodka in your cabinet which probably has an equal percentage of alcohol and is just as flammable. Hand sanitizer is only flammable for as long as it’s vaporizing from your hands. Once it’s evaporated, it’s (literally) out of your hands. The important takeaway from this is about smart, safe usage- If you’ve just sanitized, avoid an open flame. Simple as that.
Watch the full video below to see Katie’s story!
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