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Company to Pay Fine for Toxic Toothpaste

Mar 2, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

A toothpaste importer in Los Angeles has agreed to pay a misdemeanor fine for importing 80,000 tubes of poisoned toothpaste, News 10 San Diego is reporting.  Selective Imports pleaded no contest in court and agreed to pay $33,000 to a charity in Los Angeles.

The toxic toothpaste, which was made in China, was sold in the United States as Cooldent, said News 10.  The tainted Cooldent toothpaste contained diethylene glycol, which is used in the manufacture of brake fluid and antifreeze and is a known liver and kidney toxin, reported News 10, which exposed one store for continuing to sell the poisonous Cooldent toothpaste after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had issued a recall notice on the contaminated product.  The Associated Press (AP) explained that diethylene glycol is also known as diglycol or DEG

Of concern is that most of the 80,000 recalled toxic toothpaste tubes remain unaccounted; the recall remains in effect, said News 10.  As a matter-of-fact, following the recall, a News 10 investigative team discovered the tainted toothpaste for sale on shelves in three stores in California.  When questioned, the owners told the news team they were not aware of a recal, but did remove the product.  In 2007, when the news team spoke to Selective Import’s president, he blamed the vice president, said News10.

According to the AP, Selective Imports entered the plea for selling an adulterated drug product and will be placed on three years probation.  In addition, Selective Imports must follow FDA guidelines for recalling the toothpaste, said the AP, based on information from Jerry Baik, the Supervising Deputy City Attorney.

City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo told the AP, "If you're doing business with an international trade ... you have a moral obligation to make sure that that product is safe for our consumers."  Baik noted that another charge against Selective Imports and four charges against the company’s president and vice president were dropped, reported the AP.  Vernon Sales Inc. and its president and vice president were charged with 42 criminal counts.  Vernon Sales sold hundreds of tubes of the tainted toothpaste to a Los Angeles store.

The AP said prosecutors confirmed Selective Imports sold nearly 80,000 tubes of the poisonous Chinese toothpaste from December 2005 and May 2007, selling to distributors nationwide.  DEG is a thickening agent, said the AP, that is often used as a low-cost sweetener.  Recently, DEG-contaminated cough syrup was linked to 94 deaths in Panama, reported the AP.

Here, in the United States, DEG is only permitted in trace amounts in toothpaste as the toxin is considered dangerous when ingested in sufficient amounts.  According to Baik, said the AP, some of the recalled Cooldent toothpaste contained DEG levels at double the amount permitted by law in the United States, which could be especially dangerous for children, who are known to swallow toothpaste.

The AP also reported a second, large shipment of about 74,300 tubes of the tainted toothpaste were impounded by the FDA in 2007.  The products, which were imported by Selective Imports, were destroyed, said Baik, who added that while officials for both Vernon Sales and Selective Imports claim the companies did not know about the toxin’s presence in the toothpaste, the chemical was listed as an ingredient on the product’s label, reported the AP.

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