Contradicting his spokesman’s explanation, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was “not joking” when he wrongly claimed that gasoline can be used as an alternative to alcohol to disinfect one’s mask or hands.
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Gasoline and diesel — both considered toxic substances — are not included in the United States (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of disinfectants against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The EPA list includes only products that have demonstrated efficacy against:
- a virus that is “harder to kill” than SARS-CoV-2; or,
- another type of human coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV-2.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends only disinfectants that are in the EPA list, said in an explainer that inhalation of gasoline may “cause asphyxiation in enclosed, poorly ventilated, or low-lying areas,” while repeated or prolonged skin contact may cause irritation, dermatitis (eczema), or even first- and second-degree burns.
Breathing large quantities of diesel vapor or drinking diesel-based fluids may cause dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, incoordination, or euphoria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in guidelines provided by the Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom.
Aspiration into the lungs also causes “pneumonitis with choking, coughing, wheeze, breathlessness, cyanosis, and fever,” the guidelines added.
When asked if gasoline and diesel can be used as disinfectants, a team of public health experts convened by international nonprofit Meedan told VERA Files:
“No. Gasoline and/or diesel should not be used as disinfectant, does not work as a disinfectant, has not been shown to kill the virus that causes COVID-19, and may be very harmful to human health.”
Meedan cited the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which has said gasoline exposure through the skin or eyes, drinking, or breathing “can cause many health problems.”
This includes irritation or burns of the eyes, skin, or mucous membranes (such as tissues in the nose, eyes, mouth, or throat); headache, weakness, blurred vision, dizziness, slurred speech, confusion, and convulsions; and possible liver or kidney damage, among others.
Thus, the public health experts said gasoline exposure “should be avoided” and, if accidental exposure does happen, “washing the exposed area is important”:
“When exposed to gas fumes, it is important to leave the area where the fumes are to an area with fresh air or ventilation. Seek medical help for breathing problems as well as slurred speech, dizziness, confusion, or other symptoms of neurological (brain and nervous system) problems.”
Like Roque, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the president’s July 21 claim that gasoline and diesel can be used to disinfect masks may have been said in jest:
“Alam niyo naman, ‘pag nagsasalita si presidente, baka ‘yung mga jokes lang niya ‘yun, especially for gasoline (You know how the president talks. Maybe it was just a joke, especially [the part about] gasoline).”
Source: Inquirer.net, Reuse face masks? DOH says Duterte referring to cloth masks; disinfection by gasoline maybe a joke, July 21, 2020, watch from 1:10 to 1:23
Vergeire, in a July 21 presser, said, “should people not have access to clean water and soap,” the Department of Health and the Philippine Food and Drug Administration recommend the use of alcohol or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, with 70 and 60 percent ethyl or isopropyl alcohol content, respectively.
The health official said this is because the 60 to 70 percent range is “effective” in fighting off germs, bacteria, and viruses.
Moreover, not all masks are reusable. While some, like cloth or fabric masks, should be washed daily and hung under direct sunlight after use, medical masks, such as surgical and N95 masks, are for “single-use only,” according to WHO.
Vergeire issued the same reminder to reporters, saying:
“Especially surgical masks, hindi mo ‘yan puwedeng hugasan kasi ‘pag hinugasan mo ‘yan, may mga components ‘yang mga masks (you should not wash those because if you do — the masks have some components) natin…certain filtering mechanism. ‘Pag hinugasan mo, binasa mo ‘yan, mawawala na ‘yung effect nun (Washing it would negate the effect).”
RTVMalacanang, Meeting on COVID-19 Concerns and Talk to the People on COVID-19 7/20/2020, July 20, 2020
RTVMalacanang, Talk to the People on COVID-19 4/16/2020, April 16, 2020
RTVMalacanang, Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr. 7/23/2020, July 23, 2020
RTVMalacanang, PRRD’s Meeting with the IATF-EID and Talk to the People on Covid-19 07/31/2020, July 30, 2020
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Toxic Substances Portal: Gasoline, Automotive, n.d.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Toxic Substances Portal: Fuel Oils/Kerosene, n.d.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, n.d.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), Accessed Aug. 3, 2020
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, How does EPA know that the products on List N work on SARS-CoV-2?, n.d.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medical Management Guidelines for Gasoline, Accessed Aug. 3, 2020
World Health Organization, Compendium of Chemical Hazards: Diesel., 2006
Meedan, COVID-19 Expert Database
U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Gasoline, Accessed Aug. 5, 2020
Inquirer.net, Reuse face masks? DOH says Duterte referring to cloth masks; disinfection by gasoline maybe a joke, July 21, 2020
ABS-CBN News, Disinfect masks with gasoline? ‘Baka joke lang,’ says DOH after Duterte remark, July 22, 2020
CNN Philippines, DOH on Duterte’s advice to disinfect mask with gasoline: Baka joke lang, July 22, 2020
Department of Health, WATCH: DOH Virtual Presser | July 21, 2020, July 21, 2020, watch from 34:00 to 34:55
World Health Organization, How to wear a medical mask, June 5, 2020
World Health Organization, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks, Accessed Aug. 3, 2020
(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)