Sun, May 13, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Panama warns of poison from PRC in toothpastes


Health authorities ordered two types of toothpaste pulled from shelves for fear they contain a chemical that killed at least 51 people in the Central American country last year.

Panama Health Minister Camilo Alleyne said on Friday that the toothpastes were being pulled from shelves nationwide and the government issued a warning to the public against using the brands "Excel" and "Mr Cool," whose labels said that they contained the chemical diethylene glycol.

Company officials could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.


Authorities were conducting lab tests to confirm whether the products, which officials said were contraband because they were not registered, contained the chemical and expected to have results by the weekend, Alleyne said.

The Health Ministry's pharmacy director, Eric Conte, said that the government also temporarily closed a major pharmacy in the center of Panama City that sold the toothpastes.


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said this week that an investigation into the source of the deadly medicine found that the Chinese company that sold it was authorized to sell only chemicals for industrial use.

The contaminated medicine was used in cough syrup, antihistamine tablets, calamine lotion and rash ointments that were produced in a Panama government laboratory.


The New York Times newspaper said in an investigative report published last Sunday that Taixing Glycerine Factory (泰興甘油廠) in China had manufactured the diethylene glycol and fraudulently passed it off as 99.5 percent pure glycerin to a Spanish company, Rasfer International, which in turn sold the deadly substance to Panama's Medicom SA.

Medicom then sold it to a government laboratory.


Taixing's Web site says it sells industrial glycerine for use in such things as cosmetics, toothpastes and printing ink. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Glycerin, which is often processed from animal fats and occurs naturally in the human body, is a sweet liquid that can give cough syrup and other remedies thickness while preventing them from dissolving in water.

Glycerin is an ingredient in many kinds of medicines all over the world.

The first documented poisonings in Panama were reported last October, but the country's authorities believe that there may have been earlier poisonings that went undetected.

Fifty-one people died after taking the tainted medications and 68 were hospitalized.

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