Georgia hospitals, prisons received tainted toothpaste

ATLANTA - Thousands of tubes of contaminated Chinese-made toothpaste were shipped to state prisons and mental hospitals in Georgia, officials said, a sign that U.S. distribution of the tainted products was wider than initially thought.

Officials with the state prison system and the agencies that run mental hospitals and juvenile detention centers said Thursday that they knew of no health problems resulting from the products.

They said the toothpaste contaminated with diethylene glycol, which is often found in antifreeze, was taken out of use as soon as federal officials notified the state about the problem.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised consumers to "avoid using tubes of toothpaste labeled as made in China," according to a statement posted on the agency's Web site.

Chinese-made toothpaste was banned by countries in Asia and the Americas for containing diethylene glycol, or DEG. It is also a low-cost - and sometimes deadly - substitute for glycerin, a sweetener in many drugs.

China insisted Thursday that the safety of its products was "guaranteed," making a rare direct comment on spreading international fears over tainted and adulterated exports.

China "has paid great attention" to the safety of its exports, especially food, because it concerns people's health," Commerce Ministry spokesman Wang Xinpei said.

Rick Beal, in the purchasing division of the Georgia Department of Administrative Services, said that cases of the tainted toothpaste were sent to two state prisons, five psychiatric hospitals and four juvenile detention facilities.

At least one of those facilities was in the Augusta area, according to Kenya Bello, the communications manager for the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Ms. Bello confirmed that East Central Regional Hospital on Mike Padgett Highway received "a couple of boxes" of the toothpaste. All of the boxes were removed and replaced with uncontaminated toothpaste, she said.

Staff Writer Adam Folk contributed to this story.