Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Tainted Chinese Toothpaste Distributed in U.S. Prisons and Hospitals

by Matt Clarke

On June 1, 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that toothpaste made in China was found to be contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG), a toxic chemical used in antifreeze and as a solvent. The FDA urged consumers to ?avoid using toothpaste labeled as made in China,? and suggested that consumers throw away all such toothpaste.

China has a history of using DEG as a cheaper substitute for glycerin, a common and harmless ingredient in household products, drugs and cosmetics. According to the FDA, DEG has a ?low but meaningful risk of toxicity and injury? to children and people suffering from liver or kidney disease.

Chinese regulators claimed that toothpaste with small amounts of DEG was harmless and said the international concern was unjustified. They pointed to a Chinese study that concluded toothpaste with less than 15.6 percent DEG was not dangerous to humans.

?This stuff doesn?t belong in toothpaste, period,? countered FDA spokesman Doug Arbesfeld. ?No Chinese toothpaste has come into the country since the end of May.?

Initially the distribution of the tainted Chinese toothpaste was thought to be limited to discount stores; however, around 900,000 tubes have turned up in prisons and hospitals, including mental health facilities.
Two Chinese firms, Goldcredit International Trading and the Suzhou Qingxin Daily Chemical Company, made the tainted toothpaste which was sold under various brand names. DEG has been identified in the SpringFresh, Pacific, Amerfresh and EverFresh brands distributed by American Amenities, Amercare Products, Pacific Care Products and McKesson. Other brand names include Cooldent, Clean Rite, Oralmax Extreme, Oral Bright, Bright Max and ShiR Fresh Mint.

The toxic Chinese toothpaste was first discovered by the government of Panama in May 2007. Thereafter, governments in Latin America, West Africa and Japan seized shipments of the toothpaste. In June 2007, Japanese government tests on travel-sized tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste revealed 6.2 percent DEG contamination. McKesson then had an independent laboratory test its toothpaste; after discovering DEG contamination, the company contacted its customers to inform them of the problem.

Many state institutions bought the cheap 1.5 oz. tubes of toothpaste for around 9 cents each. The largest customer was Georgia, which purchased 5,877 cases and distributed them to adult prisons, mental health facilities and juvenile prisons. State institutions in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, including hospitals and prisons, also received the tainted toothpaste. On August 30, 2007 and again on October 5, 2007, this PLN reporter was issued Chinese-made ?SpringFresh? toothpaste at the Texas prison system?s John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas ? indicating that, contrary to reports in the mainstream press that distribution of the toxic toothpaste was stopped in June 2007, the toothpaste is still being handed out in some state facilities.

The North Carolina Department of Corrections estimated it had bought 22,000 tubes of ?Pacific? brand toothpaste. They were pulled from circulation. On June 12, 2007, Georgia officials confiscated 846,288 tubes of toothpaste that had been purchased in 2002. The Spokane County Jail in Washington state pulled its Chinese-made toothpaste seven weeks after the FDA warning was issued. ?As soon as I became aware of it, we stopped it,? said jail Captain Jerry Brady. There were no reported illnesses.

Given the long shelf life of this type of product, it may be decades before all of the contaminated toothpaste is purged from state institutions in the United States. In the meantime, prisoners may want to scrutinize the state-issued toothpaste they receive.

Sources: Associated Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, New York Times

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login