Choose your toothpaste carefully – that’s the latest from the Ministry of Public Health, which recently raided three stores in San José selling tubes contaminated with a toxic substance.
On Friday, the ministry declared a national alert, urging citizens to denounce stores that continue to sell the contaminated toothpaste under the brand names Genial and Mr. Cool, both of which are made in China, according to the daily La Nación.
Though the ministry identified the problem almost a month ago, stores selling the toothpaste were discovered last week by a reporter from the daily Al Día. When questioned on the subject, Health Minister María Luisa Ávila commented, “It just got away from us.”
The toxic substance – called dietilene glycol – is also used as brake fluid for automobiles and has been blamed for a rash of deaths in Panama, where it wasdiscovered mixed with medicines provided by that country’s social security system.
According to La Nación, 300 units of the poison toothpaste were sold in San José and the northwestern Guanacaste city of Liberia. Earlier this week, a vendor in Costa Rica voluntarily turned over a shipment of more than three tons of the poisonous toothpaste, which it had stored in a warehouse in San José, though the daily reported that the Health Ministry’s legal department might still hold the store accountable for “having sold toxic substances.”
The NationalCenter for Toxic Substances has not received any reports of affected people in Costa Rica, but Health Minister Ávila told the daily that people should be wary of purchasing toothpastes with obscure brand names until the issue is fully resolved.
The ministry is in the process of closing commercial establishments that continue to sell these brands and is studying the possibility of filing complaints before the Prosecutor’s Office against those who distributed the product in Costa Rica, the daily reported.
The substance in question, which has also been used as an industrial cleaning solvent, was responsible for poisoning 107 people in the United States in 1937, 85 people in Haiti in 1996 and, most recently, more than 100 people in Panama.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), consuming even small quantities is often fatal and can lead to a breakdown of the central nervous system.
On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sentenced to death an official from its pharmaceutical control office, after determining that he’d accepted bribes in exchange for licenses to sell contaminated products – including the toothpaste sold in Costa Rica, according to a report from the press agency EFE.
The Chinese man, Zheng Xiaoyu, allegedly accepted $832,000 in bribes, and has 10 days to appeal his death sentence.
To report stores selling the toothpaste brands in question, call the Health Ministry at 221-6058, 222-1415 or 222-4800.