Public warning about contaminated hand sanitiser should have been issued a week ago, Minister tells Dail

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A public warning and withdrawal notice about a useless and potential dangerous hand sanitiser should have been issued a week ago, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue told the Dail.

e said he had now ordered an urgent review over his Department’s handling of the information since October 16, he said, adding that he himself had only been informed on Thursday night.

Meanwhile Ireland has known for a month that the stock of hand sanitiser sent here had failed tests in Denmark, he revealed.

Olaf, the European anti-fraud agency, notified the authorities here that ViraPro imports from Turkey it contained an excess amount of methanol — which can cause dermatitis and respiratory ailments.

It would have been “appropriate” for the Government to have issued a public notice about the useless and “potentially dangerous hand sanitiser when lab tests at the Department’s own facility at Backweston had confirmed contamination with methanol in consignments in Ireland a week ago, Minister McConalogue told the Dail.

He said ViraPro had now been removed from the approved products register, having been certified for use in Ireland on April 21, 2020, on the basis that it contained 70 per ethanol, or industrial alcohol.

But tests showed inadequate levels of ethanol were found, rendering it useless as as a sanitiser. Excess levels of the irritant methanol were found instead, Mr McConalogue said.

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said the recall of ViraPro sanitiser had caused further chaos in many schools that are already struggling to keep their doors open.

The recall decision had been taken on Tuesday but not publicised until very late on Thursday night. He asked at what point the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health had been informed that “yet another debacle was coming down the tracks.”

He asked if the Department of Agriculture had provided approval for this product in the first place and when it had first become aware of the concerns and told Minister McConalogue.

He said he was disappointed that the Minister had left it to the last Government slot of the week to respond.

A crucial question that needed to be answered was why there was a gap of two days in the information being disseminated, after Department officials had been alerted by their European counterparts.

He said there had been too many debacles for no-one to now be held accountable for this one, which has caused chaos and the closure of a number of schools.

Mr McConalogue said Olaf, the European anti-fraud office, had notified the Revenue Commissioners about the import of ViraPro product from Turkey to Ireland, sourced from the same supplier of a product that had been tested in Denmark and found to contain contain excessive levels of methanol.

Revenue notified his Department on September 25, he said.

and arrangements were made to test the consignment and “a number of other containers already been imported into Ireland from the same supplier.”

All containers that were tested were detained pending the results of the laboratory analysis. Concerns related to varying and inadequate levels of ethanol in the product, as well as the detection of injurious methanol at varying levels in some samples.

The lack of adequate levels of ethanol would render the product ineffective, Mr McConalogue said.

“More importantly, frequent use of a hand sanitiser containing methanol can cause nausea, dermatitis, irritation of the upper respiratory tract and headaches.”

Preliminary results were received on October 8, giving sufficient reason to believe that this product should not be released onto the market, he said. All four of warehouses that had product from the different consignments then had it impounded.

Additional samples were taken for testing covering all products from the company bearing the name ViraPro. The following day, October 9, “it became clear that some of this product was not alcohol based, and therefore had not been approved for use by my by my Department.”

Validation results were received on October 16, proving the products did not meet the standards for approval, “particularly with regard to the presence of methanol.”

The recall of all remaining products was then mandated. Officials spoke with the Department of Education, and on October 21, the Department contacted the HSE.

“The primary responsibility for the withdrawal of products rests with the company concerned,” Mr McConalogue claimed. “Yesterday it became evident from the company that the recall of products had not yet commenced.

“At that point my Department took the additional step of issuing a statement outlining the possible risks posed,” and warning the public not to use it, he said.

“I was informed of the situation yesterday for the first time. Having reviewed the matter today. I’m very clear that it would have been much more appropriate for my Department to have followed up with a public notice and communications with other Government Departments immediately upon issuing withdrawal orders to the company on October 16.”

Anyone with any ViraPro sanitation product should not use it, and should it be delivered, it has to be withdrawn immediately.

“I’m also conducting a full review of the handling of this particular issue, to ensure that our system of regulation is robust and that lessons are learned in terms of communication,” he said.

Online Editors

Source: Irish News