Federal authorities have discovered at a Silver Spring, Md., discount store fake "Colgate" toothpaste contaminated with the same poisonous chemical that has been found in some Chinese toothpaste.
Colgate's legitimate manufacturer, the Colgate-Palmolive Co., which is the world's largest toothpaste maker, yesterday warned that the counterfeit product, labeled as being manufactured in South Africa, was found in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as in Silver Spring.
Food and Drug Administration inspectors found the toothpaste containing diethylene glycol at the Dollar Power Store on 16th Street in Silver Spring. Diethylene glycol is a poison used in antifreeze and brake fluid. It also is used as a lower-cost substitute for the sweetener glycerin.
The Silver Spring tube tested positive for the chemical, while two other tubes tested negative, the FDA said.
The counterfeit toothpaste is labeled as "Manufactured in South Africa," Colgate said yesterday, although the New York consumer products manufacturer, does not import toothpaste into the U.S. from that country.
The rest of the store's purported Colgate from South Africa was destroyed, according to a store employee who asked that her name not be used.
She added that she did not think any of the suspect toothpaste had been sold.
The store's owner could not be reached for comment.
The FDA is attempting to trace the product back to its source. It will expand its investigation to other states if there is evidence that the counterfeit toothpaste was shipped to other states.
Colgate-Palmolive said it does not use and has never used diethylene glycol as a Colgate toothpaste ingredient.
It is not certain that the toothpaste actually came from South Africa, according to FDA spokesman Doug Arbesfeld.
"Even though it says made in South Africa on it, we can't be confident that that's true until we trace it back through an investigation, because it also says 'Colgate' and it's not Colgate," he said.
According to Colgate-Palmolive, counterfeit packages examined so far contain a number of misspellings, including "isclinically," "SOUTH AFRLCA" and "South African Dental Assoxiation."
The FDA stopped imports of Chinese toothpaste last month for testing after reports that tainted toothpaste had been exported from China to the Dominican Republic, Panama and Australia. The agency has since issued a warning to consumers not to use Chinese toothpaste after finding more tainted tubes.
FDA investigators have been examining the shelves of discount stores where fake toothpaste typically is sold. The South African "Colgate" got caught in that dragnet, Mr. Arbesfeld said.
China was the source of 81 percent of all counterfeit products seized last year, according to government statistics.
The toothpaste was distributed by MS USA Trading of North Bergen, N.J., which announced it is recalling five-ounce tubes of Colgate because of possible contamination.
The company said the recall includes toothpaste branded as Regular, Gel, Triple and Herbal, adding that no illnesses had been reported.
"We do not make it, we don't import it, we just buy it from a guy," MS USA Trading manager Chris Kim told the Associated Press. A telephone message left for the source identified by Mr. Kim — a man he knows only as "Dialo" — was not immediately returned yesterday.
"Production of the product has been suspended while the company continues their investigation as to the source of the problem," the company said, although the firm could not be reached for clarification of that statement.
Colgate said it is working with the FDA to help identify who is responsible for the counterfeit product.
Shares of Colgate-Palmolive fell 61 cents to $66.85 on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday.
Consumers suspecting they may have purchased counterfeit product can call Colgate toll-free at 800/468-6502.
MS USA Trading also said consumers with questions may call 201/869-0010.