Toxic Cough Syrup Causes Deaths in Panama

How a tailor in China passed glycol off as glycerin, and killed hundreds of children
By Colleen Barry,  Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2007 8:00 AM CDT
Toxic Cough Syrup Causes Deaths in Panama
Empty bottles wait to be filled with prescription medication at a pharmacy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in April 2004.   (KRT Photos)

(Newser) – American drugmakers are on the lookout this week for another in the growing list of potentially deadly Chinese exports. This time, it's diethylene glycol, a sweet-but-toxic chemical that masquerades as glycerin in common medications like cough syrup and that has already killed almost 400 people—many of them children—in Panama. 

A New York Times investigation tracks the chemical's deadly path back to China's Yangtze Delta, where a tailor with fake credentials passed off the glycol as glycerin syrup. The glycol moved through three continents undetected before a Panamanian doctor traced a wave of deaths to its presence in cough syrup. Chinese drug monitoring is "a black hole,” says a local trader. (Read more medicine stories.)

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