That could make the I-10 fire, complicating traffic in Los Angeles this week, the third fire in the area involving leftover hand sanitizer. A different pallet park to store disinfectant caught fire in downtown Los Angeles in January. And in 2021, a notoriously noxious odor plaguing the Los Angeles County town of Carson was linked by authorities to a massive fire in a lot containing thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer.
As WIRED reported in June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted regulations on hand sanitizer at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, trusting the free market to resolve a shortage of hand sanitizer. It soon became clear that faith was misplaced.
After production increased, the United States quickly had more hand sanitizer than anyone knew what to do with, and much of it turned out to be toxic due to poor manufacturing practices. Over the past few years, unsaleable hand sanitizers have piled up at many locations across the country. And industrial fires involving large quantities of hand sanitizer have been reported at multiple sites in Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois.
Hand sanitizer is highly flammable and regulations state that it must be treated as hazardous waste. But some in the chemical distribution industry have complained that properly disposing of hand sanitizer is too costly. A fire in Oklahoma was also investigated as arson.
Serafin says he was not a major distributor of hand sanitizer, but simply someone trying to support his family during the pandemic by selling products such as masks, cleaning fluid and sanitizer to local businesses . He said his landlord, Apex Development, charged him $4,500 a month during the time he was awaiting rent payment from the California Department of Transportation.
Serafin said he and other subtenants stopped paying rent to Apex when they learned of their landlord’s dispute with the state, but resumed payment after its CEO, Nowaid, became aggressive and excluded them from the property.
“At the end of the day, my business is screwed, my livelihood is gone and all I can do is work,” Serafin said of his current situation. He said he had been renting there since 2009 and the Department of Transportation was aware of the crowded conditions under the highway. In addition to hand sanitizer, Serafin said there were also forklifts, boxes, gas canisters and trucks under the overpass. Apex contract with Caltrans said flammable or dangerous materials were not supposed to be stored there. Serafin says he is confident his disinfectant did not start the fire.
“My hand sanitizers didn’t trigger it. I could tell you where it was. It was literally in the middle of my store,” he said, referring to the space he rented under the overpass. “How would it have started there? That wouldn’t be the case.