Over the past month, authorities from the Ministry of Commerce’s Consumer Protection and Fraud Repression Department seized more than 80 tonnes of hand sanitiser made with methanol from markets across the country.
A ministry announcement on Friday said the seized sanitiser contained methanol, a substance banned by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The sanitiser was mostly confiscated in the capital, but quantities were also seized in provinces throughout the Kingdom.
“Methanol is a non-toxic, colourless, odourless alcohol that is very similar to normal alcohol [ethyl alcohol], and is mainly used as a solvent,” the statement said.
Methanol is generally marketed as methyl alcohol, methyl hydrate, methyl hydroxide, methylol, wood naphtha or wood spirit, among other names. It is completely water-soluble and highly flammable.
WHO guidelines state that methanol is not allowed to be used as an active ingredient in the production of hand sanitisers as it can adversely affect the health of consumers.
Short-term effects include skin burning, eye irritation, headaches, drowsiness, confusion, disorientation, nausea, disrupted digestion and dullness of vision, according to the guidelines.
Long-term effects can be far more serious.
“If mixed with alcoholic drinks or other beverages, it can be detrimental to the body’s nervous system, cause visual impairment and even complete blindness.”
On Sunday, ministry spokesman Seang Thay called on sellers, businessmen, companies, enterprises and individuals who are conducting business with products containing methanol to stop the sale and distribution of them for the common good of the whole population.
If they do not stop their illegal business practices, the ministry would take legal action, Thay said.
Offenders will be fined or have their business licence revoked and a complaint will be filed with the court depending on the number of products seized.
General Department of Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Prevention director-general Phan Oun, said on Sunday the ministry is currently taking legal action against two foreigners who illegally imported handwashing alcohol containing methanol into the Cambodian market.
“Methanol affects not only consumer economics but also consumer health, so we need to build a case in court according to legal procedures,” he said.
Oun confirmed more than 80 tonnes of methanol-based alcohol hand sanitiser has been seized by the ministry.
In the past month, 75 tonnes of the illegally produced sanitiser was found in the capital, he said, and the ministry decided to burn it.
Illegally produced sanitiser seized in the provinces is being stored where it was found while authorities wait for an expert committee to decide when it will be burned.