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Department of Agriculture advising all ViraPro sanitary products be returned to supplier on 'precautionary basis'

A notice was issued last night that the ViraPro hand sanitiser being used in schools had been recalled.

Minister for Agriculture
Minister for Agriculture
Image: Oireachtas

Updated Oct 24th 2020, 9:30 AM

THE DEPARTMENT OF Agriculture is advising that all sanitary products in the ViraPro range be returned to the supplier on a “precautionary basis”. 

Last night, the Department of Education issued a notice that the hand sanitiser ViraPro being used in schools had been recalled by the Department of Agriculture. 

The recall resulted in the closure of a number of schools today. Circle K also recalled the hand sanitiser.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said he was first made aware of the issue of the hand sanitisers yesterday, and that concerns about not enough ethanol and too much methanol led to the recall of the ViraPro products. 

Concerns regarding the sanitiser related to varying and inadequate levels of ethanol in the product, as well as the detection of methanol at varying levels in some samples”, the Minister told the Dáil.

Inadequate levels of ethanol would render the product “ineffective”, he added.

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

The Department of Education released a statement this evening to say that it was formally notified of the issue by the Department of Agriculture yesterday afternoon.

As soon as the Department of Agriculture provided the information and a formal statement, the Department of Education issued an advisory notification to schools and to media.

It said that it was necessary to contact all schools because the Department did not receive a list of schools that had purchased this product from the supplier when requested.

McConalogue said that his Department was taking the issue very seriously, and would continue to investigate the matter. He also added that more communication could have been given to other Departments about the issue:

I’m very clear that it would have been much more appropriate for my Department to have been followed up with a public notice, and communications with other Government Departments immediately upon issuing a withdrawal notice to the company on 16 October.

Sanitary products

In a statement this evening, the Department of Agriculture said that in the course of the investigation into the hand sanitiser matter, “it has emerged that a number of other sanitary products under the Virapro brand were not on the Department’s approved list for biocidal products”. 

“The company concerned has been advised to withdraw all of these products from the market,” the Department said. 

The Department is therefore advising, on a precautionary basis, that all sanitary products in the ViraPro range should be returned to the supplier. 
Members of the public are advised to stop using these products because they are not authorised for use. 

The Department said that all sanitary products containing biocides must have a clearly visible PCS or an IE/BPA or EU number on the label. 

“A Department investigation into this matter is ongoing,” it said. 

Opposition’s reaction

Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture Matt Carthy and spokesperson on education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire have said that serious new questions have arisen following the Dáil statement.

“Sinn Féin sought a Dáil debate on this issue. Instead we got a late night statement with no opportunity for questions or response.

In fact, Minister McConalogue’s statement raised even further questions than those we had originally following confirmation of the recall of ViroPro late Thursday.
Why was the product not recalled – or at least the concerns publicised – upon receipt of the OLAF notification on 25 September? Why, when there was concrete evidence last week that this product was dangerous, was this information not immediately acted upon?

“The Minister for Agriculture told the Dáil that he only learned of these developments on Thursday. That exposes a systematic failing within his department. Does the minister have a handle on his department at all?

“Through all of this debacle, a dangerous product has been widely used in schools and other public settings. There must be accountability for that.”

A timeline of events

The hand sanitser was placed on its list of approved register of bioside products on 24 April this year.

McConalogue said part of the approval was based on it containing 70% ethanol – a common standard for hand sanitiser products. 

He said that the European Anti-Fraud Office notified Revenue of the import of a hand sanitiser product from Turkey to Ireland, which had been found to contain “excessive levels of menthanol”. 

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Revenue told the Department of Agriculture this on 25 September. 

“Arrangements were made to test the consignment and a number of other consignments that have already been imported into Ireland from the same supplier.

“All consignments that were tested were detained pending the results of the laboratory analysis,” the Minister told the Dáil. 

Department officials took samples of batches of product at different storage locations between 30 September and 2 October, and the samples were submitted to the Department’s laboratory.

Preliminary results were received on 8 October, and gave “sufficient reason to believe that this product should not be released onto the market pending further investigation”.

On 8 October, “compliance notices” were issued to four warehouses that had consignments of the hand sanitiser. Six additional samples of the product were taken,and submitted to the lab on 9 October.

It became clear that some of this product was not alcohol based and therefore had not been approved for use by my Department.

He added that the products did not meet the standards for approval, “particularly with regard to the presence of methanol”.

The company was immediately instructed to retain all products in its possession and recall all remaining products under its name from the market.

On 20 October, ViraPro hand sanitizer was removed from theDepartment’s biocide register, and on the same day officials had “informal contact” with the Department of Education’s procurement service.

On 21 October the HSE was informed.

“On Thursday 22 October [yesterday], it became evident on the basis of communication from the company that the recall of the products had not yet commenced.”

At that point, my Department took the additional step of issuing a statement outlining the possible risks posed by ViraPro and advised members of the public not to use it, and also issued formal notification to the Department of Education, Health, and Children.
With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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