updated 5/6/2007 12:21:23 PM ET 2007-05-06T16:21:23

A Chinese factory was the source of a counterfeit chemical that killed dozens of people in Panama after it was used in human medications, a newspaper reported.

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The New York Times reported in its Sunday editions that records and interviews revealed the poison was first sold by Chinese companies that exported it as 99.5 percent pure glycerin. The source of the chemical was then obscured as middlemen in Spain and Panama removed the names of their suppliers from shipping documents — a practice used by distributors to ensure continued business.

Panama’s government health agency used the substance to produce medicines, not realizing that it was diethylene glycol, a chemical cousin of antifreeze that can cause kidney and neurological damage if ingested.

The Times said investigators in four countries identified Taixing Glycerine Factory as the maker of the poison. That company’s certificate of analysis said the shipment was 99.5 percent pure, the Times reported.

The sale of the syrup was brokered by a unit of a state-owned business in Beijing, the article said. From there, it went to a distributor in Barcelona, Spain, and on to a dealer in Panama.

No one in China has been charged with causing the Panamanian deaths. An unidentified Chinese drug official told the Times that investigators tested the Taixing Glycerine Factory’s product and found it contained no glycerine. But a spokeswoman for the drug agency said the company had not broken any laws.

Wan Qigang, the legal representative for the factory, told the Times last year that the company made only industrial-grade glycerin. But more recently it has been advertising 99.5 percent pure glycerine on the Internet, the Times said. Wan declined to answer further questions.

Concerns about the safety of imports from China rose in the U.S. after pet food containing a Chinese ingredient was found to be tainted with another industrial chemical, melamine. The poison has killed or sickened an unknown number of dogs and cats and led to the recall of more than 100 brands of pet food.

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