Counterfeit Colgate Has Poisonous Chemical

By Xiyun Yang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

A chemical used in antifreeze has been found in tubes of counterfeit Colgate toothpaste, Colgate-Palmolive said yesterday.

The toothpaste was first found at a discount store in Silver Spring late last week, officials said. Investigators have since traced shipments of the toothpaste to stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. There have been no reports of anyone becoming sick after using it.

The toothpaste was found at the Dollar Power store in Silver Spring, said Douglas Arbesfeld, a spokesman for Food and Drug Administration. Investigators from the FDA began spot-checking toothpaste at retailers and distributors on May 31, after media reports that tainted toothpaste from China was found in the Dominican Republic, Australia and Panama. All Chinese toothpaste has been stopped at the border. "The burden of proof is on the importer to meet our rigorous criteria," Arbesfeld said.

China announced an overhaul of its food and drug safety regulations this month after international objections over contaminated exports. An ingredient imported from China tainted with melamine, a plastic material, was used in pet food made in the United States. The pet food was recalled.

On June 1, the FDA issued an alert about Chinese toothpaste, naming about a dozen minor brands on its Web site. Though the counterfeit tubes of Colgate were labeled as having been made in South Africa, FDA investigators became suspicious of misspellings such as "isclinically," "SOUTH AFRLCA" and "South Arican Dental Assoxiation" on the package.

Colgate-Palmolive has said it does not import toothpaste from South Africa.

Diethylene glycol (DEG), commonly used in antifreeze, is a cheap substitute for glycerin and was added to the counterfeit toothpaste to add texture. The chance of harm from DEG exposure through toothpaste is small, as the product is not meant to be swallowed, according to the FDA. Officials do warn of the potential for DEG to harm children who ingest small amounts of toothpaste, as well as patients with kidney and liver disease. Large amounts of the chemical could cause kidney failure.

DEG levels of 1 to 4 percent were found in brands of Chinese toothpaste that were banned by the FDA on June 1.

A 2000 Chinese study said DEG levels of up to 15.6 percent are tolerable. "We say that the potential risk here is low but meaningful. This stuff doesn't belong in toothpaste and has to come off the market," Arbesfeld said.

The shipments of counterfeit Colgate, distributed through MS USA Trading, of North Bergen, N.J., has been recalled. A person who answered MS USA Trading's phone declined to answer questions.

Most of the $2 billion worth of toothpaste sold in U.S. stores is made domestically. The United States imported about $3.5 million worth of Chinese toothpaste in 2006, according to the Commerce Department.

Large discount stores generally buy their products from manufacturers' distribution centers, where quality control is rigorous, said Kiley F. Rawlins, a spokeswoman for Family Dollar, a national chain. "It's the mom-and-pop stores that depend on wholesalers," she said.

An employee at the Dollar Power in Silver Spring said the store ordered the toothpaste from the MS USA Trading catalogue. "They check the quality, we just display. We don't check each item. This is a dollar store. We have thousands of items on display," she said.

Staff researchers Richard Drezen and Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.

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