ATLANTA – Thousands of tubes of contaminated Chinese-made toothpaste were shipped to state prisons and mental hospitals in Georgia, officials said Thursday, a sign that U.S. distribution of the tainted products was wider than initially thought.
Officials with the state prison system and with the agencies that run mental hospitals and juvenile detention centers said they knew of no health problems stemming from the Chinese products.
They said the toothpaste contaminated with diethylene glycol, which is often found in antifreeze, was immediately taken out of use as soon as federal officials notified the state about the problem.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised consumers to "avoid using tubes of toothpaste labeled as made in China," according to a statement posted on the agency's Web site.
"Out of an abundance of caution, FDA suggests that consumers throw away toothpaste labeled as made in China," the statement said.
Chinese-made toothpaste has been banned by numerous countries in Asia and the Americas for containing diethylene glycol, or DEG. It is also a low-cost — and sometimes deadly — substitute for glycerin, a sweetener in many drugs.
The New York Times reported Thursday that about 900,000 tubes have turned up in the United States, including correctional facilities and some hospitals, not just at discount stores as initially thought.
China insisted Thursday that the safety of its products was "guaranteed," making a rare direct comment on spreading international fears over tainted and adulterated exports.
China "has paid great attention" to the safety of its exports, especially food, because it concerns people's health, Commerce Ministry spokesman Wang Xinpei said.
"It can be said that the quality of China's exports all are guaranteed," Wang told reporters at a regularly scheduled briefing.
Rick Beal in the purchasing division of the Georgia Department of Administrative Services told The Associated Press that cases of the tainted Chinese toothpaste were sent to two state prisons, five state psychiatric hospitals and four juvenile detention facilities.
The prison system was the largest consumer, with 5,877 cases. The hospitals had 101 cases plus some loose tubes and the juvenile detention centers had 25 cases. Each case had 144 tubes.
Beal said that when the FDA notified the state about contamination with diethylene glycol, the toothpaste was taken out of use.
"It's being stored," he said. "It's segregated from their operating supply. 'Do not use' signs are place on them. And they're pending disposition."
Tracy J. Smith, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections, said the prison system had no reports of any health problems related to the toothpaste.
Thomas Wilson, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Human Resources, which oversees the state's seven mental hospitals, said Thursday that after getting the FDA advisory on June 8, the tubes of tainted toothpaste were immediately pulled and replaced with name-brand toothpaste.
"We asked our clinical directors to be on the lookout for any signs of poisoning or symptoms," Wilson said. "We've not have anybody ill. We are continuing to monitor the situation."
Steve Hayes, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, said none of the youths in the agency's care was affected by the tainted toothpaste.
"We pulled all the product immediately upon notification that there might be a problem and we've continued to monitor the youth in our care," Hayes said. "We've had no illnesses
A spokesman for North Carolina's Department of Correction told the Times that Pacific brand toothpaste was distributed to prisoners who could not afford to buy a name brand at prison stores. The tubes were taken away after trace amounts of DEG was found in them. They said there had been no illnesses reported, and that the toothpaste in question was being replaced with brands not manufactured in China.
Chinese exports came under scrutiny earlier this year with the deaths of dogs and cats in North America blamed on Chinese wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine.
Since then, U.S. authorities have turned away or recalled toxic fish, juice containing unsafe color additives and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint.
On Wednesday, three Japanese importers recalled millions of Chinese-made travel toothpaste sets, many sold to inns and hotels, after they were found to contain as much as 6.2 percent of diethylene glycol.
Wang, the Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman, said Chinese experts have already "explained the situation."
He gave no details, although the country's quality watchdog has in past cited tests from 2000 that it said showed toothpaste containing less than 15.6 percent diethylene glycol was harmless to humans.
Also Wednesday, Beijing police raided a village where live pigs were force-fed wastewater to boost their weight before slaughter, state media reported.
Plastic pipes had been forced down the pigs' throats and villagers had pumped each 220-pound pig with 44 pounds of wastewater, the Beijing Morning Post reported Thursday.
Paperwork showed the pigs were headed for one of Beijing's main slaughterhouses and stamps on their ears indicated that they already had been through quarantine and inspection, the paper said. Suspects escaped during the raid and no arrests were made, it said.
Earlier this week, inspectors announced they had closed 180 food factories in China in the first half of this year and seized tons of candy, pickles, crackers and seafood tainted with formaldehyde, illegal dyes and industrial wax.
"These are not isolated cases," Han Yi, an official with Wei's quality administration, was quoted as saying in Wednesday's state-run China Daily newspaper.
Han's admission was significant because the agency has said in the past that safety violations were the work of a few rogue operators — a claim aimed at protecting China's billions of dollars of food exports.