Gov't probes 'tainted toothpaste' case

By Xu Xiaomin and Wang Hongyi (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-24 06:55

SHANGHAI: The government said yesterday that it would investigate the alleged "contaminated toothpaste" incident and publicize its findings as soon as possible.

It said an investigation team comprising directors of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, State Food and Drug Administration and China Customs was working on the issue from Beijing.

Some of its members had also been sent to Danyang in East China's Jiangsu Province, where the toothpaste is manufactured, to gather information and evidence, a government announcement said.

On Monday, officials from the Dominican Republic said they had removed 10,000 tubes of toothpaste labeled "Excel" and "Mr Cool" from stores because they were found to contain diethylene glycol.

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The two brands are manufactured by the Danyang Chengshi Household Chemical Co Ltd.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that customs officials in Panama said they had discovered diethylene glycol, a chemical commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid, in 6,000 tubes of "Mr Cool" and "Excel" toothpaste.

Authorities there said they believed the contaminated toothpaste, which was shown to contain between 1.7 to 4.6 percent diethylene glycol, came from China.

The New York Times said that a woman named Shi Lei, who it claimed was the manager of the Chengshi Company, denied it produced toothpaste containing the chemical.

However, Shi told China Daily in a telephone interview that she had not spoken to the New York Times and accused the paper of publishing falsified accounts.

"I got a call from someone asking about the toothpaste, but they said they were from a client company," Shi said.

Shi also denied being employed by the company and said she was considering suing the newspaper.

"I just helped the company to publish some information last year on the business-to-business website 'alibaba'."

However, on the site, Shi's name is given as the contact person for the company.

Calls made by China Daily staff to both the Chengshi Company and an associated firm, Goldcredit International Trading in Wuxi, went unanswered yesterday.

A source from Jiangsu's quality-control authorities told the Oriental Morning Post that the case was under investigation and the findings would be published as soon as possible.

Xiang Cuiqin, a researcher with the Shanghai Prophylactic Medicine Institute, told China Daily: "I can't tell if the toothpaste is safe or not by just knowing what percentage of diethylene glycol it contains.

"To judge the safety of a chemical, we have to know not only its percentage but also its purity, and any other ingredients contained in the product."

In an essay written by Xiang in 2000, she pointed out that even using toothpaste containing 15.6 percent of the said chemical for a long time, would not have a detrimental effect on a person's health.

A senior official with a local toothpaste producer, who asked not to be named, said: "In the 1990s, some toothpaste manufacturers actually started using diethylene glycol instead of glycerol because it was cheaper."

Research conducted at the time said the replacement was quite safe if its percentage was not too high, he said.

The official said he was concerned that the "tainted toothpaste" issue will have a negative effect on the industry in China.

"It is better for the State to release detailed standards about the volume and purity of toothpaste ingredients," he said.

He said he had never seen any official standards on chemical use in toothpaste.

(China Daily 05/24/2007 page4)

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