Chinese police last week arrested three men suspected of selling 5 tons of poison-laced powdered milk. While authorities managed to seize the tainted foodstuff before it reached store shelves, the episode is just the latest in a long string of quality-control failures in the Chinese manufacturing sector. Since China is the world's largest exporter, more than a few of these dangerous lapses have affected U.S. consumers. Here are some of the more memorable—and alarming—recent cases of hazardous Chinese imports:
1. Radioactive drywall
In 2006, with the housing market booming, U.S. demand for drywall exceeded what domestic companies could produce. China stepped in and filled the gap. But soon homeowners began complaining that the Chinese drywall was causing foul odors and the mysterious corrosion of mirrors and electrical outlets. While a U.S. government investigation is ongoing, many experts believe the Chinese drywall contains phosphogypsum, a radioactive material that—among its other unpleasant effects—may put people at higher risk for lung cancer.
2. Toxic dog food
A number of American pet food companies began recalling a wide range of Chinese-made products in March 2007 after discovering that they contained melamine, a chemical that causes kidney failure. According to reports, the melamine was intentionally added by some Chinese companies to boost the appearance of protein in product tests. More than 4,000 Americans reported the death of a dog or cat due to the tainted food.
3. Dangerous sweets
In Septmber of last year, the government of New Zealand announced that its testing had found Chinese-made White Rabbit Creamy Candie—sold in America at many Asian markets—contained deadly melamine. The FDA promptly issued a recall of the sweets, and no deaths were reported. This incident came a year after Philippine authorities found formaldehyde in the same brand of candy.
4. Toxic toothpaste
The FDA issued a recall in 2007 of all Chinese-made toothpaste sold in Puerto Rico after Chinese officials revealed some of it contained diethylene glycol, an industrial chemical used in anti-freeze. Tens of thousands of tubes, sold under the brand names Mr. Cool and Excel, were taken off the shelves. Despite the toxicity of diethylene glycol, no deaths from using the product were recorded—purportedly because consumers spit out toothpaste after using it.
5. Dangerous ginger
In July 2007, the California Department of Health issued a caution to grocery stores and consumers after abnormally high levels of the pesticide aldicarb sulfoxide were found on ginger imported from China. According to the FDA, exposure to aldicarb sulfoxide can cause "flu-like symptoms," including nausea, headache, and blurred vision, while higher levels can cause, among other things, excessive sweating, salivation, and twitching.
6. Carcinogenic fish
Fish imports from China were put under limitations in 2007 after five kinds, including catfish, were found to contain traces of several anti-fungal and antibiotic drugs known or suspected to cause cancer. Chinese fish farms, many located in highly polluted waters, use the products to boost harvests. Chinese officials and exporters protested the new import restrictions, complaining that they would cost "too much money."
7. Tainted toys
Viritually all mass market toys in the U.S. are made in China—and in recent years a not-insubstantial portion of them have proved hazardous. In 2007, 467 different types of toys made in China were recalled—including a slew of toys containing lead paint, which can harm brain development in children. Among the most notable were some of the immensely popular Thomas & Friends wooden train engines and cars.