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  • Dean Smith

NJ 7-Eleven Owner Charged with Selling Homemade Sanitizer that Injured Four Children

We often warn readers to use social media responsibly. This time, however, we’re pleased to share a story that doesn’t end with dire consequences for a careless poster. If anything, one could argue this is exactly how social media should be used.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on March 10, River Vale, New Jersey, police paid a visit to their local 7-Eleven after one officer saw photos posted on Facebook “depicting a young boy with apparent burns to his arm and leg,” police Lt. John DeVoe said in a statement. He added that the boy’s mother was trying to spread a warning, using her posts to explain how her son was hospitalized with severe burns after using sanitizer purchased from the 7-Eleven located on Rivervale Rd.

Township resident Lauren Michele Gehm, 40, stated she believed the “sanitizer” was homemade, and that her son had suffered first-degree burns, writing,

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“We are sitting in the ER with chemical burns due to hand sanitizer loaded with ammonia, prob made in a back ally due to all this hype nonsense,” Gehm wrote on Facebook. “This was sold to a bunch of kids and they innocently sprayed it and now we are here with (my son) in major pain.”

She posted a label from the bottle, showing it includes ingredients like octyl decyl dimethyl ammonium chloride and dioctyl dimethyl ammonium chloride, which can cause severe skin burns, according to several material safety data guidelines.

The 10-year-old child is expected to make a full recovery, but he wasn’t alone. He and a group of friends had purchased the bottle together. Two other ten year old children, as well as one eleven year old, also suffered burns. Fortunately, their injuries were less severe and did not require hospitalization.

Police immediately issued a warning about a product marketed as “Spray Sanitizer” from the 7-Eleven and posted photos of the homemade chemical packaged in 3-ounce, mini-sprayer bottles.

“From the information that we received, approximately one dozen of the bottles were sold to customers (on Monday),” Devoe said, adding that officers “immediately seized the remaining bottles.” contacted the 7-Eleven the following morning. The woman who answered the phone said the sanitizer is safe but declined to comment further.

River Vale police said the 7-Eleven matter is under investigation and that the incident was reported to county and state officials. “Our first priority is to make the public aware that they should not use this item if they purchased it at the River Vale 7-Eleven,” Devoe said. “As far as we know, this issue is limited to the River Vale store at this time.”

The store’s owner, Manisha Bharade, 47, has been charged with four counts of child endangerment and deceptive business practices.

In a joint statement, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella announced that Bharade, “mixed commercially available foaming sanitizer, which was not meant for resale, with water and packaged it in aftermarket bottles to be sold at the 7-Eleven on Rivervale Road,” the statement said, adding that, “An apparent chemical reaction from the mixture caused the burns.”

Officials said additional analysis would be conducted to learn the exact make-up of the mixture. Investigators added they do not believe Manisha Bharade set out to hurt anyone or was even trying to make a lot of money. The Daily Voice reported she sold the sprays for $2.50 per bottle.

Meanwhile, the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs is investigating the store’s “practices regarding the sale and promotion of health and sanitation products,” the statement said.

The DCA also sent a letter to the store’s owners demanding that they preserve all records relating to the preparation and sale of the “spray sanitizer” seized by law enforcement, as well as the sale and advertisement of any health-related or sanitation- related products that the store began marketing or offering for sale after December 31, 2019, the first day that the government in Wuhan, China confirmed illnesses now known as COVID-19.

Grewal stated, “Let me be perfectly clear; if you try to take advantage of our residents during a public health emergency, we will hold you accountable. Retailers who try to make a quick buck by exploiting others will face civil and criminal consequences.”

Although police recovered five bottles of the solution, nine bottles remain unaccounted for.

Lieutenant John DeVoe of River Vale Police told WABC-TV the incident is an example of how careful people need to be in the current health environment, and ensure they’re only buying consumer items that have been tested by professionals. “The last thing we want to do is to start buying into panic and creating our own type of sanitizers from compounds that we don’t know what they contain. That’s when the danger occurs. That’s when the compounds and mix and have a negative reaction, which is likely what occurred in this scenario.”

Anyone who bought the spray from the River Vale 7-Eleven is asked to call police at 201-664-1111.

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