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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Risky toothpaste

Spokane County Jail officials were seeking a substitute Thursday for up to 12,000 tubes of potentially poisoned toothpaste from China after an urgent recall by a Seattle-area distributor.

As late as Wednesday, however, inmates still were being given 2.75-ounce tubes of AmerFresh brand toothpaste that may have been tainted with diethylene glycol (DEG), according to a warning from Amercare Products Inc. of Woodinville, Wash.

DEG, a chemical used in antifreeze and as a solvent, can be toxic to the liver and kidneys.

The federal Food and Drug Administration last month recalled several specific brands of imported toothpaste and issued a general warning June 1 to consumers not to use any Chinese-made toothpaste after the poison was detected in some samples.

Amercare officials, who have contracts with several state agencies, issued a voluntary recall July 10 for two brands of regular and gel toothpaste: AmerFresh and Pacific. However, jail commander Capt. Jerry Brady said the letter he saw was postmarked Monday and received late Wednesday. He said he didn’t learn of the action until early Thursday.

“As soon as I became aware of it, we stopped it,” Brady said.

He said he hadn’t heard about the FDA’s June 1 warning, despite widespread publicity.

“I don’t believe I was ever told specifically about an FDA recall,” Brady said.

That means for seven weeks after the general FDA warning, local inmates used the potentially tainted toothpaste included in 10,000 jail admission kits and 2,000 hygiene kits ordered this year.

Admission kits include a comb, toothpaste and toothbrush, while hygiene kits include those items plus shampoo and deodorant, said Kay Donder, a jail supervisor.

Jail officials typically have used AmerFresh because it keeps the cost of the supplies low: $1.89 per hygiene kit and 30 cents for each admission kit, Donder said.

“We’re not going with name brands, we’re looking for the best deal,” Donder said.

Amercare officials did not return a call about the recall Thursday.

Jail medical staff will order new toothpaste immediately, Brady said.

He didn’t know how long it would take to get, or what nearly 600 inmates each day would use in the interim.

Although the AmerFresh brand was not included in a list of products recalled by the FDA, that’s no guarantee of safety, an official of the federal agency said Thursday.

“Our initial warning said do not use any toothpaste product identified as being manufactured in China because of the likelihood of it containing DEG,” said spokeswoman Rita Chappelle.

That warning was enough to prompt other local and state agencies to pack up potentially suspect toothpaste.

The Spokane Veterans Home sent back six dozen tubes of SpringFresh brand toothpaste made by Inspiration Manufacturing and Trading Co. of Guangdong, China, according to Heidi Audette, a spokeswoman.

The move was part of a June 4 recall issued by the state’s General Administration department, said Jim Erskine, a spokesman for the agency.

Although SpringFresh was not included on the FDA list of suspect products, the state asked all vendors to return the toothpaste.

“We said, even if you have something from six months ago, send it back,” Erskine said.

So far, vendors have returned nearly 12,000 1 1/2-ounce tubes of toothpaste that sell for about 19 cents apiece, and nearly 1,600 7-ounce tubes that sell for about 70 cents each.

“It was just kind of a precautionary thing to allay any fears that the customers might have,” Erskine said.

The Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center also returned about 100 tubes of toothpaste after discovering the Dawn Mist brand was made in China, Associate Director Jane Schilke said this week.

The VA had received cases of the travel-size toothpaste a couple years ago from a New York distributor and never opened them, Schilke said.

The hospital gets so many donations of hygiene supplies from area service groups and such good deals from local retailers, they don’t need to consider imports, Schilke said.

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