Louisiana is producing thousands of bottles of hard-to-find hand sanitizer, thanks to a quickly assembled collaboration among state agencies and three manufacturers donating the ingredients.
Inmates at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel on Wednesday began mixing isopropyl alcohol, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide and water in a 700-gallon polyethylene tank. The inmates, who are with the Prison Enterprises division of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, are using a formula developed by the World Health Organization.
ExxonMobil is supplying isopropyl alcohol, or IPA, which is 75% of the WHO formula, by far the biggest component. Procter & Gamble is supplying glycerol, while Solvay is supplying hydrogen peroxide. Water makes up 23% of the formula.
ExxonMobil has donated more than 3,000 gallons of IPA, which it delivered to Hunt on Wednesday morning in 60 drums. The company just so happens to operate in Baton Rouge the world’s largest manufacturing facility for IPA.
Robert Berg, a regulatory adviser with ExxonMobil, said that after some internal discussion, the energy giant decided it would like to help Louisiana as best it could.
“We wanted to put this material back into where we live, back into the community,” Berg said.
IPA is in high demand. Besides its use for hand sanitizers, isopropyl alcohol is a solvent for semiconductors and other industrial processes, said Greg Bass, a product manager with ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said Prison Enterprises and the inmates at Hunt “have worked tirelessly to produce large quantities of hand sanitizer” — 14,000 bottles as of Thursday night: “We’re confident this will assist in reducing the spread of Covid-19.”
The effort to produce homegrown hand sanitizer began in early March when the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office, working with Prison Enterprises, created test batches with the idea of sanitize voting machines during what would have been the state's April 4 presidential primary. The primary, however, was postponed until June 30, so there was no immediate need for voting machine sanitizers.
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The state departments of Corrections and Environmental Quality then took over the effort.
DEQ located companies in Louisiana that could supply the ingredients. The agency is also monitoring the mixing process to make sure harmful gases don’t build up. John Pojman, chairman of LSU’s chemistry department, as well as chemistry graduate student Anthony Mai are guiding the process as well.
“Every little thing counts in the battle to flatten the curve of COVID-19,” said DEQ Secretary Chuck Brown.
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The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness acquired 30,000 bottles to be filled with hand sanitizer. Spokesman Mike Steele said as those bottles are filled, GOHSEP will likely send the bulk of them to medical providers who make requests for sanitizer through the state Department of Health.
ExxonMobil is also working with the state of New York, which is making its own sanitizer. Also on Thursday, the company announced a separate initiative, in partnership with the Global Center for Medical Innovation, to redesign and manufacture reusable personal protection equipment for health care workers, such as face shields and masks.
“This is very much like a wartime effort,” said ExxonMobil's Berg.