WASHINGTON – The federal government warned consumers on Friday to avoid using toothpaste made in China because it may contain a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze.
Out of caution, the Food and Drug Administration said, people should throw away toothpaste with labeling that says it was made in China. The FDA is concerned that these products may contain diethylene glycol.
The agency is not aware of any poisoning from toothpaste in the United States, but it did find the antifreeze ingredient in a shipment at the U.S. border and at two retail stores: a Dollar Plus store in Miami and a Todo A Peso store in Puerto Rico.
Officials said they are primarily concerned about toothpaste sold at bargain retail outlets. The ingredient in question, called DEG, is used as a lower-cost sweetener and thickening agent. The highest concentration of the chemical found in toothpaste so far was between 3 percent and 4 percent of the product’s overall weight.
“It does not belong in toothpaste even in small concentrations,” said the FDA’s Deborah M. Autor.
The FDA increased its scrutiny of toothpaste made in China because of reports of contamination in several countries, including Panama.
The agency is particularly concerned about chronic exposure to DEG in children and in people with kidney or liver disease.
Agency officials said they had no estimate of how many tubes of tainted toothpaste might have made it into the U.S.
“Our concern today is potentially about all toothpaste that comes in from China,” Autor said. “Our estimate is that China makes up about $3.3 million of the $2 billion U.S. toothpaste market.”