PANAMA CITY – Health officials in Central America and the Caribbean are on alert following Panama’s announcement that toothpastes imported from China containing a potentially fatal substance were reexported to the Dominican Republic and other countries in the region.
The head of Panama’s Customs service, Daniel Delgado Diamante, confirmed that toothpaste contaminated with diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used to make brake fluid, had been imported from China and part of the shipment was re-exported to the Dominican Republic.
“It was confirmed that these (products) arrived from China,” said Delgado, who met with Panamanian Health Minister Camilo Alleyne and other officials to “tighten control measures” at the different ports of entry.
Diethylene glycol, which was detected last year in medicines manufactured by the Panamanian Social Security pharmaceutical laboratory, has been blamed for the deaths of roughly 100 people in Panama. Prolonged use of products tainted with the industrial solvent can cause kidney failure, paralysis and even death (NT, May 4).
A Panamanian Public Health Ministry official said there is no evidence that anyone has died or been hospitalized after using the toothpaste in Panama.
Last month, 6,168 units of the toothpaste brands “Mr. Cool” and “Excel” containing the toxic substance were seized in Panama City (NT,May 11).
Initial investigations showed that the company J&M had sold the products in the Colon Free Zone and also sent seven shipments to the Dominican Republic, prompting Panamanian health officials to alert their counterparts in that Caribbean nation.
They also notified authorities in Haiti for fear that – because some of the product labels contained writing in Creole, an official language in that country – the toothpastes may also have been shipped there.
Nicaragua, too, has launched a vast operation in border areas and at supermarkets, stores and markets in search of the contaminated toothpaste.
More than 500 tubes of Mr. Cool were confiscated May 26 in Managua’s Mercado Oriental and health authorities say they have reports that it is being sold door-to-door in the northwestern department of León.
Authorities said shipping registries showed that 1,413 tubes of Mr. Cool entered Nicaragua between February and March. The toothpaste was also found in Costa Rica (see separate story).
Dominican Customs officials, meanwhile, said that they seized some 90,000 units of the toothpastes that contain the toxic substance and had been imported from Panama.
Chinese authorities said they were investigating the sale of the tainted toothpaste.
“We’re investigating. When we have some news, we’ll report it,” said a spokesman for the Chinese General Administration for the Supervision of Quality and Quarantines.
The Chinese Trade Ministry refused to comment on the case of the toxic toothpaste.
The toothpastes, which were not registered and had been mixed in with animal products, entered Panama between October and December of 2006 and were discovered at a market in Panama City.