Counterfeiting Hits Home

MORE than a handful of PPE manufacturers have been raising alarms about counterfeit safety products for some time now. I never regarded this as much of a threat, I confess, until mid-June of this year, when two simultaneous developments outside our industry convinced me counterfeiting is a serious current problem.

If you visit our magazine's Web site frequently, you know that we post news about safety recalls there. And you also know that several recent U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission-sanctioned recalls involve products imported from China. CPSC announced four recalls in June of toothpaste--hardly a safety product, but a product nearly everyone uses daily and assumes to be harmless--and two of these involved Chinese imports, the agency said. All four involved toothpaste possibly contaminated with diethylene glycol, an antifreeze ingredient that can cause fatal liver damage if ingested. CDC published a report 11 years ago about 76 deaths among Haitian children who had ingested an acetaminophen syrup contaminated with DEG; The New York Times in May 2007 traced DEG-contaminated medicines that had killed hundreds of Panamanians to China; and the Food and Drug Administration said June 15 it had identified several brands of toothpaste from China that contained the sweet-tasting solvent. "The products typically are sold at low-cost, 'bargain' retail outlets" under various names, FDA said.

The same week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy introduced an agenda to meet the challenge head-on. "The counterfeiting epidemic is costing us money and jobs, and it is creating hazards for U.S. consumers. From counterfeit medicines to auto parts to home appliances, they are endangering the lives of our citizens with tragic consequences," said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a CACP member. He said the initiative allows the government to utilize new resources in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy.

Years ago, I wrote a newspaper story about research work taking place at the University of Missouri-Columbia to make antifreeze less deadly for dogs and other animals that might find it pooled on a street or driveway and lap it up. It is chilling to consider the risk DEG-contaminated toothpaste poses to anyone who bought it and missed the government's warnings. We're at greater risk than I had realized.

This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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