A Panamanian importer is mainly culpable for the deaths of up to 100 people
last year who used cough syrup which had a toxic chemical as an ingredient,
Chinese officials said yesterday.
Wei Chuanzhong, deputy director of the General Administration of Quality
Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ), described the chain of events
uncovered in an investigation:
11,349 kilograms of "TD" glycerin, which can be used as a substitute for
glycerin in industrial use, was sold to a Spanish company in 2003 before being
forwarded to a Panamanian trader the same year.
contained 15 percent diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent used in paint and
antifreeze, while glycerin is a similar but more expensive compound frequently
used as syrup in medicines and in toothpastes.
The Panamanian merchant later renamed the solvent as "pure glycerin", tweaked
the expiry date to indicate it would be valid for another three years, and sold
it to a cough syrup manufacturer.
"The two trades were separate and the Chinese companies were not informed of
the resale," Wei told a press conference organized by the State Council
"The Panamanian trading company is mainly responsible because it changed the
scope of use and shelf-life of the product.
"By the time the Panamanian drug manufacturer used the chemical, it had been
expired for two years."
The Chinese companies had made it clear in their export paperwork that the
material was for industrial, not medical, use.
The deaths started last summer; and in October, China launched an
investigation at the request of Panama. A preliminary probe result was submitted
by the year-end but some foreign media have recently raised the issue, holding
China directly responsible for the deaths.
Some other scandals involving Chinese exports, such as the "toxic" toothpaste
and wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine, have also shaken confidence
in made-in-China products.
China launched another investigation last month, whose results Wei unveiled
He also dismissed concerns about exported Chinese toothpaste containing
diethylene glycol, saying there was "no sound evidence" to show that the
chemical was dangerous in low concentrations.
Thousands of tubes of made-in-China "Mr. Cool" and "Excell" branded
toothpaste have been seized in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica and
Nicaragua for containing diethylene glycol ranging from 2.5 percent to 4.6
But he cited research by Chinese doctors which says toothpaste containing up
to 15.6 percent of diethylene glycol has been found safe even after prolonged
"But to better safeguard the health of the public, we'll issue clear
guidelines for the use of diethylene glycol in toothpaste," he said.
Li Yuanping, director of the AQSIQ's food safety bureau, also criticized some
foreign media for stoking fears about the safety of Chinese food and drugs.
He said they had "wantonly" reported on so-called unsafe Chinese food
products, but records show that more than 99 percent of Chinese food exports to
the United States in the last three years had met quality standards about the
same, or even higher, than the equivalent figure for US food exports to China
during the same time.
He said China had found at least 35 shipments of frozen meat from the US to
China containing the salmonella bacteria and veterinary medicine residue since
"But one company's problem doesn't make it a country's problem," he said. "If
some food is below standard, you can't say all the country's food is unsafe -
just like aircraft are believed to be the safest mode of transport, but we do
see air crashes some times."