By Larry Seitz | February 8, 2009
A toxic chemical has killed at least 84 children in Nigeria. Diethylene glycol, mixed into My Pikin Baby Teething Mixture, a teething medicine for babies appears to be the product.
Diethylene glycol is used as an industrial solvent. It also is found in antifreeze and brake fluid. The chemical has many of the same properties as glycerin, a sweet syrup used repeatedly in medicines, foods, and toothpastes. Knowing this, the culprits gaining profits by the substitution, as the difference in cost is significant.
When ingested, the chemical causes kidney and liver damage, as well as attacking the central nervous system, causing paralysis that hampers breathing. Children in Nigeria, ages 2 months to 7 years old, became sick in November. Unexplained fevers and vomiting were noted. Some stopped urinating and many had diarrhea. Hospitals across Nigeria reported children with similar symptoms.
“The high concentration of the syrupy liquid in the teething medicine has made it even more deadly — three-quarters of the children made sick by the medicine have died,” Babatunde Osotimehin, Nigeria’s minister of health said.
Diethylene glycol has been implicated in mass poisoning before. In 2006, Panama experienced the death of 365 people as this chemical was found in a liquid medicine. Mislabeled as glycerin, the poisoned sweet syrup was traced back to a factory in China.
In Haiti, ten years ago, scores of children died from tainted medicine used to control fevers. In 1990, Nigerian children died when the same substitute took place.
This despicable act of substituting diethylene glycol for glycerin, solely for profit, deserves stricter evaluation of ingredients. A swift and unwavering punishment for this horrendous pretend should also be enacted.