The maker of a Chinese toothpaste which is found to contain deadly dangerous chemical said he was under investigation, but claimed his product was safe.
Chen Yaozu, general manager of Danyang Chengshi Household Chemical Co., said Tuesday his firm had exported toothpaste to Panama containing diethylene glycol, a chemical blamed for the deaths of at least 51 people in the Central American country after it was mixed into cough syrup.
However, Chen said the chemical, a thickening agent often used as a low-cost substitute for glycerin, was permitted under Chinese rules and was safe in small amounts.
"I can say I am very confident about our product's quality," Chen said in a telephone interview from his company's headquarters in the eastern province of Jiangsu. He said company managers were cooperating with investigators.
The safety of Chinese food and pharmaceutical exports has come into question in recent months amid allegations that tainted ingredients from local suppliers ended up in products blamed for the deaths in Panama and for killing pets in North America.
That has put export markets worth about US$30 billion (EUR22.2 billion) on alert, prompting the authorities to take swift action to root out wayward firms and protect its industries.
An official with the Danyang local branch of China's food and drug inspection agency confirmed the investigation into the toothpaste suppliers, but gave no details. The official gave only his surname, Gu, as is common with Chinese bureaucrats.
Chinese-made toothpaste sold under the brands "Excel" and "Mr. Cool" were targeted after authorities in the Dominican Republic learned they contained diethylene glycol. The toothpaste was imported from Panama and entered the Dominican Republic illegally in shipments registered as food for animals, the Dominican Health Department said.
Panama also removed the toothpaste brands from stores last week, but said the level of diethylene glycol do not appear to be dangerous. Still, officials in both countries have advised consumers not to use the products.
Panama removed the toothpastes after a customer noticed their labels said they contained diethylene glycol. Tests by experts at the University of Panama confirmed the toothpastes contained about a 2.5 percent level of the chemical.
Checks on supermarkets in China's commercial center of Shanghai turned up no sign of diethylene glycol among the listed ingredients of more than one dozen brands of Chinese-made toothpaste.
However, a salesman for a Chinese trading company that imports the chemical from Iran said it is occasionally be used to prevent toothpaste from drying out.
"Proper amounts of diethylene glycol are not toxic if it remains uncontaminated," said Zou Jianjun of the Jiangsu-based Donghua International Trading Co.
It was unclear if China limits use of the chemical in toothpaste.