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Pandemic-era hand sanitizer

I have been trying (albeit not very hard) to come up with the best way to describe the stinky hand sanitizer that is going around these days. Then today somebody in the office described it as bad tequila and I immediately thought, “yup, that’s exactly it. It’s bad tequila.” See above tweet.

Turns out, there’s some science behind this stink. Here is an article by Gregory Han from the New York Times that was shared in response to my tweet. And here is the excerpt that explains where this stink comes from:

“That off-putting smell—sometimes described as rotten garbage or tequila-like—is the natural byproduct of ethanol being made from corn, sugar cane, beets, and other organic sources,” explained Zlotnik. “[Ethyl alcohol] production is highly regulated. It stinks because these new brands—many made by distillers who’ve pivoted from producing drinking alcohol to meet public demand for hand sanitizer—are making and using denatured ethanol. This ethanol costs significantly less than ethanol filtered using activated carbon filtration, which would typically remove almost all contaminants and the malodor with it.”

Those organic contaminants aren’t the only reason unfiltered and denatured ethanol smells downright foul. According to Zlotnik, denatured ethanol is also intentionally tainted with an unpalatable cocktail of chemicals (denaturants) such as methanol, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, and denatonium to make it undrinkable. In other words: The base material is intentionally stinky.

So now you can judge accordingly after you’ve cleansed your hands with rotten garbage tequila.

On a somewhat related note, Jill Lepore has an interesting piece in this week’s New Yorker about the great indoors, and how quarantine has forced us to spend even more of our time indoors. (Though, that hasn’t been the case for me this summer.) Here’s a snippet:

The Great Confinement varies by place and by wealth, and, historically, it’s new. “Over several millennia, humans have evolved from an outdoor species into an indoor one,” Allen and Macomber write. Citing E. O. Wilson, they explain, “We evolved in the African savannah’s wide-open expanses, intimate with nature and seeking protection under tree canopies,” and so “our genetic hardwiring, built over millennia, still craves that connection to nature.” To satisfy this craving, photographs of redwoods adorn hospital waiting rooms; you can pop into the Grand Canyon via Zoom. I used to think these dodges were better than nothing, but I’ve changed my mind. Zoom is usually not better than nothing.

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