By Stephanie Kelly
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Trump administration said this week it will temporarily allow some impurities in alcohol-based hand sanitizer to ensure access to the product during the coronavirus pandemic, reversing course after having tightened restrictions in April.
The move will provide clarity on impurity limits for a slew of fuel ethanol companies that had switched to producing hand sanitizer during the outbreak, after regulators discovered some of the impurities, including cancer-causing acetaldehyde, several weeks ago.
"We are specifying interim levels of certain impurities that we have determined can be tolerated for a relatively short period of time," the Food and Drug Administration said on its website.
"We believe that our temporary guidances sets the proper level of flexibility at the current time to help protect Americans during this public health emergency."
The FDA guidance allows up to 2 parts per million of benzene and 50 ppm of acetaldehyde, according to the website.
The ethanol industry invested millions of dollars since March to ramp up the output of corn-based alcohol sanitizer at a time when fuel demand has slumped from the pandemic.
Twenty-seven plants are currently producing ethanol for sanitizer, the Renewable Fuels Association said.
RFA President Geoff Cooper said the limits are overly restrictive.
"We do not believe the new guidance will help alleviate the hand sanitizer shortage in any meaningful way," Cooper said, adding that benzene is not present at any level in the ethanol the industry provides for sanitizer or other purposes.
(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; editing by Richard Valdmanis, Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)