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Hand gel fires and burns from bleach water: What *not* to do with corona-related products

18:24 19/05/2020

Now that temperatures are rising, the first fire involving alcohol-based disinfecting gel in Belgium is a fact. It happened in a residential garage in Dendermonde, East Flanders.

To be fair, the fire was caused by a combination of products, but the hand gel exacerbated the situation. “Don’t put your hand gel in places that get really hot or in the full sun because there is a chance of fire,” Dendermonde fire prevention advisor Alexis De Regge told VRT. “We recommend using hand gel and other disinfecting products, but we need to be careful with them. The alcohol makes them slightly flammable.”

While hand disinfecting products won’t spontaneously burst into flame, they should not be left in the full sun. De Regge suggest putting it in the glove box of the car, for instance, rather than on the dash or seat.

“It can get really hot in a car,” he said. “When the sun shines directly on the tube, the gel can warm up. If a bit comes out of the tube or a reflection from glass hits it, it can vaporize. If it then comes into contact with a heat source, it can catch fire.”

De Regge also say to not light up a cigarette right after using disinfecting gel. “A small, flammable vapor is released from the alcohol where you’ve used it,” he notes, so it’s also best to avoid turning on a stove or lighting up any other heat source in the immediate area for a few minutes.

But do use it instead of bleach

And for heaven’s sake, don’t take a bath in bleach water. That’s a warning from the federal Poison Control Centre, which has seen a 20% increase in calls during the corona crisis. “We have never seen such a jump in calls in the history of the Poison Control Centre,” adjunct-director Dominique Vandijck told VRT.

Aside from mixing different kinds of products to disinfect their homes and businesses, “which creates dangerous chemical fumes,” people are disinfecting their hands with solvents or adding bleach or essential oils to their bath. “These are all dangerous products that can result in poisoning or burns.”

The centre noticed a sharp increase in bleach-related incidents following US president Donald Trump’s suggestion that disinfectants could be injected to fight the coronavirus. “There was an immediate jump in calls related to the use of bleach,” said Vandijck. “Not that they were injecting it, but more people started using it on themselves. It shows the kind of consequences that follow such a statement by certain people.”

In most instances, the centre can help the caller neutralise the situation, but sometimes they are advised to visit their doctor or A&E.

Photo ©Andrey Popov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Written by Lisa Bradshaw