• Article

Diethylene Glycol in Health Products Sold Over-the-Counter and Imported from Asian Countries

Diethylene glycol (DEG), a chemical that has been implicated in multiple medication-associated mass poisonings, can result in renal and neurological toxicity if ingested. Three previous such mass poisonings implicated Chinese manufacturers as the origin of contaminated ingredients. No literature exists on potential DEG or triethylene glycol (TEG), a related compound, contamination of health products imported from Asian countries to the USA. Our primary objective was to quantitatively assess the amount of DEG present in a convenience sampling of these health products. The study's secondary objectives were to: (1) evaluate for, and quantify TEG levels in these samples+ADs- (2) compare DEG and TEG levels in these products directly to levels in medications implicated in previous similar mass poisonings+ADs- and (3) to estimate DEG dose (in mg/kg) based on the manufacturer's instructions and compare these values to toxic doses from past mass poisonings and the literature. A quantitative assessment of DEG and TEG was performed in a convenience sampling of over-the-counter health products imported from Asian countries. Results were converted to volume to volume (v/v) +ACU- and compared with DEG levels in medications implicated in previous mass poisonings. Estimated doses (based on the manufacturer's instructions) of each product with detectable levels of DEG for a 70 kg adult were compared to toxic doses of DEG reported in the literature. Seventeen of 85 (20+ACU-) samples were not able to be analyzed for DEG or TEG due to technical reasons. Fifteen of 68 (22+ACU-) samples successfully tested had detectable levels of DEG (mean, 18.8 mug/ml+ADs- range, 0.791-110.1 mug/ml+ADs- and volume to volume (v/v) range, 0.00007-0.01+ACU-). Two of 68 (3+ACU-) samples had TEG levels of 12.8 and 20.2 mug/ml or 0.0012+ACU- and 0.0018+ACU- TEG v/v. The product with the highest DEG+ACU- by v/v was 810 times less than the product involved in the Panama DEG mass poisoning (8.1+ACU-). The lowest reported toxic dose from a past DEG mass poisoning (14 mg/kg) was more than 150 times higher than the highest daily dose estimated in our study (0.09 mg/kg). Sixty-eight of 85 (80+ACU-) samples were able to be successfully analyzed for DEG and TEG. DEG and TEG were detectable in 15/68 (22+ACU-) and 2/68 (3+ACU-) samples, respectively. Based on current standards, these levels probably do not represent an acute public health threat. Additional research focusing on why DEG is found in these products and on the minimum amount of DEG needed to result in toxicity is needed


Schier, JG., Barr, DB., Li, Z., Wolkin, AF., Baker, SE., Lewis, LS., & McGeehin, M. (2011). Diethylene Glycol in Health Products Sold Over-the-Counter and Imported from Asian Countries. Journal of Medical Toxicology, 7(1), 33-38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13181-010-0111-9

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