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Health watchdog issues toxic toothpaste alert

Diethylene glycol hits the UK

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The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) yesterday issued a health warning that fake 50ml tubes of Sensodyne Original and Sensodyne Mint containing "toxic levels of...diethylene glycol" may have found their way into consumers' bathrooms via "markets or car boot sales".

The MHRA said: "The fake toothpastes are in combined Arabic and English livery with a batch code 'PROD 07 2005 / EXP 08 / 2008'. Genuine GlaxoSmithKline Sensodyne packs are in English livery only with no Arabic text." It notes the toothpaste is not available in "legitimate retail outlets such as supermarkets, pharmacies, and general stores".

The MHRA warning comes after recent diethylene glycol scares in Panama and Nicaragua. In both cases, the offending products were Chinese "Excel" and "Mr Cool" toothpastes containing the potentially-toxic chemical.

As a result of mounting pressure to clean up its act, China earlier this week banned the use of diethylene glycol in toothpastes. A statement on the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine website announced on Wednesday: "From today onwards, toothpaste manufacturers are not allowed to use diethylene glycol as an ingredient."

Diethylene glycol is commonly used as a cheap substitute for glycerine, but its ingestion can have serious consequences. In 1995-6, 85 Haitian children who drank a paracetamol syrup containing contaminated glycerine died after suffering "nonspecific febrile prodromal illness followed within two weeks by anuric renal failure, pancreatitis, hepatitis, and neurologic dysfunction progressing to coma".

In 1990, a similar product claimed 339 Bangladeshi children, while last year a cough syrup which used diethylene glycol as the suspension agent did for 50 Panamanians. ®

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