Sunday, May 20, 2007

Poisoned Toothpaste from China: this would be a good time to start freaking out

A week ago I wrote:
I've written quite a bit about globalization lately, particularly in the context of toxic food, medicine, and consumer products. Not to mention the toaster problem, or those DVD/VCR combo units that last (at most) six months. Cheap goods from Walmart aren't cheap if you need to buy 3 times as many of them. (Incidentally, this shows up as increased productivity rather than increased inflation.)
Not to mention counterfeit surgical supplies and suspiciously murky globalized supply chains.

Today the NYT (bless them, they're on a roll now!) adds Diethylene glycol poisoned toothpaste to the list (emphases mine). Note that children, incidentally, often don't spit out toothpaste. Also note one significant difference from the other toxic products - diethylene glycol was an official ingredient of the product.
Poisoned Toothpaste in Panama Is Believed to Be From China - New York Times

Diethylene glycol, a poisonous ingredient in some antifreeze, has been found in 6,000 tubes of toothpaste in Panama, and customs officials there said yesterday that the product appeared to have originated in China.

“Our preliminary information is that it came from China, but we don’t know that with certainty yet,” said Daniel Delgado Diamante, Panama’s director of customs. “We are still checking all the possible imports to see if there could be other shipments.”

Some of the toothpaste, which arrived several months ago in the free trade zone next to the Panama Canal, was re-exported to the Dominican Republic in seven shipments, customs officials said. A newspaper in Australia reported yesterday that one brand of the toothpaste had been found on supermarket shelves there and had been recalled.

Diethylene glycol is the same poison that the Panamanian government inadvertently mixed into cold medicine last year, killing at least 100 people. Records show that in that episode the poison, falsely labeled as glycerin, a harmless syrup, also originated in China.

There is no evidence that the tainted toothpaste is in the United States, according to American government officials.

Panamanian health officials said diethylene glycol had been found in two brands of toothpaste, labeled in English as Excel and Mr. Cool. The tubes contained diethylene glycol concentrations of between 1.7 percent and 4.6 percent, said Luis Martínez, a prosecutor who is looking into the shipments.

Health officials say they do not believe the toothpaste is harmful, because users spit it out after brushing, but they nonetheless took it out of circulation.

Mr. Martínez said at a recent news conference that the toothpaste lacked the required health certificates and had entered the market mixed in with products intended for animal consumption.

He said laboratory tests had found up to 4.6 percent diethylene glycol in tubes of Mr. Cool toothpaste. The Excel brand had 2.5 percent...

,,,In Panama City, a consumer notified the pharmacy and drugs section of the Health Ministry after seeing that diethylene glycol was listed as an ingredient in toothpaste at a store...

...Over the years, counterfeiters have found it financially advantageous to substitute diethylene glycol, a sweet-tasting syrup, for its chemical cousin glycerin, which is usually much more expensive.
Is anyone so naive as to imagine we're detecting 100% of these incidents? This would be a very good time for the American public to, you know, freak out.

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