It looked like a great deal on the website of Deals Direct — the place for those who love a bargain — a box with 60 packs of Mr Cool toothpaste with toothbrush for $44.95 or just 75 cents each pair.

There’s just one little worry for those brushing their pearly whites with Mr Cool. Authorities in Panama have found the brand laced with up to 4.6% diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent regularly found in anti-freeze and the chemical that killed more than 100 people in Panama last year when mixed into cold medicine.

Mr Cool is no longer listed for sale on Deals Direct while Excel, another cheap toothpaste with diethylene glycol in place of fluoride, was withdrawn last week from the shelves of the NSW Northern Rivers supermarkets Farmer Charlies.

But do not expect to find details of these product withdrawals on Australian government websites. While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning pharmaceutical manufacturers, suppliers, drug repackers, and health professionals who compound medications to be especially vigilant in assuring that glycerin, a sweetener commonly used worldwide in liquid over-the-counter and prescription drug products, is not contaminated with diethylene glycol, our health officials have been silent.

As a spokesman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration told the Northern Star, “they could not order a nationwide recall of the product because it did not claim to have medical benefits, despite the fact it contained a substance banned in food”.

The official line of the Australian bureaucracy seems to be that if the little kiddies swallow the poisoned toothpaste, it is not our responsibility. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Chris Pearce, is the politician charged with controlling the recall of dangerous products but he has issued no press statement on the subject. The ACCC, which reports to Pearce on such matters, does not have Mr Cool and Excel on its list of product recalls. Nor could I find a reference on the Deals Direct site alerting any previous purchaser to the potential danger of any Mr Cool that might still be in their possession.

The New York Times reported this week that customs officials in Panama said that they had discovered diethylene glycol in 6000 tubes of toothpaste which was being sold under the English brand names Mr Cool and Excel. The report said there had been no reports of deaths tied to toothpaste containing the chemical. It continued:

Dr Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA, said diethylene glycol levels found in some Panamanian toothpaste was nearly 50 times greater than what is deemed safe. “Kids swallow toothpaste,” Dr Throckmorton said. “That is going to be a concern to you.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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