Following text is an excerpt from The New York Times INTERNATIONAL / ASIA PACIFIC Edition story Chinese Chemicals Flow Unchecked to Market:
United States officials learned of problems with China’s chemical companies in the mid-1990s while investigating the fatal poisonings in Haiti. Chinese authorities took no action against the uncertified chemical company that made the poison, diethylene glycol, or the giant state-owned trader, Sinochem International Chemicals, that exported it.
A decade later another state-owned trading company, CNSC Fortune Way, exported the diethylene glycol — also from an uncertified chemical company — that ended up in the deadly Panamanian cold medicine in 2006.
Chinese officials have known for years that uncertified chemical companies are producing active pharmaceutical ingredients. In 2004 the Chinese drug authority’s newspaper cited complaints that some licensed companies “affiliate” with unlicensed ones to hide their illegal purchases, while others buy only a token amount from certified suppliers to pass inspection. “The impact of chemical products on the bulk pharmaceutical market hints at a much larger problem: a huge hole in drug safety,” the drug agency publication stated.
Since the Panama poisonings, China is considering ways to corral the chemical industry. At Panama’s request, Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, has pressed the Chinese government to step up regulation of chemical companies selling pharmaceutical ingredients.
American and Chinese health officials held their first high-level meeting in May, and hope to sign a memorandum of agreement in December. “The Chinese have finally come to the realization that their regulatory system needs repair,” said William Steiger, director of international affairs for Mr. Leavitt’s agency. But meaningful change will be difficult. Chinese authorities may not have enough investigators to weed out the many small chemical companies that are making drug ingredients.
And efforts to close the regulatory gap must overcome one particularly thorny issue: some uncertified companies accused of selling counterfeit drugs are owned by the government itself.