‘Very serious health hazard’: Swedes bust Chinese herbs containing arsenic

By Shane STARLING contact

- Last updated on GMT

SNFA: “The levels we found were about 40mg/g which are the highest we have ever seen”
SNFA: “The levels we found were about 40mg/g which are the highest we have ever seen”

Related tags: Traditional chinese medicine

Chinese herbal products have been found to contain arsenic at potentially dangerous levels by Swedish authorities although no adverse events have been reported.

The Swedish National Food Agency (SNFA) said it had found “extremely high”​ levels of arsenic in products going by a variety of names including Niu-Huang Chieh-tu-pien, and Indian names Divya Kaishore Guggul and Chandraprabha Vati.

SNFA toxicologist, Leif Busk, told us the products were inspected about a month ago by Stockholm health authorities as part of random testing procedures and were not part of any campaign to target Chinese or Ayurvedic traditional medicines.

“…the highest we have ever seen…”

“The levels we found were about 40mg/g which are the highest we have ever seen,” ​Busk said. “Over the years there have been a few issues with products from Tibet and China but nothing as high as this.”

While no health problems have as yet been linked to the product, the SNFA described the arsenic levels as a, “very serious health hazard.”

The SNFA had been confirmed with another lab, Busk said, who worried that while the products are being removed from Swedish shelves, “the biggest problem could be the internet.”

The products typically target mumps, sore throats, tonsillitis, toothache, skin infections, anorexia and fever in infants, although they have not won any approved EU health claims or medicinal claims for these conditions.

“The recommended dose provides a daily amount of inorganic arsenic which in a worst case scenario equals half a lethal dose,”​ said Busk.

“Consequently, anyone who eats it can be very seriously affected. It’s frightening to think there are companies selling these very hazardous preparations.”

Local and European authorities have been alerted to the problem.

Niu-Huang Chieh-tu-pien featured on a 2007 list of products known to contain lead, mercury or arsenic compiled by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in New York City.

The company that makes the products, Beijing Tongrentang, could not be contacted but the products remain on-sale on many websites.

Jeff Crowther, the executive director of the Beijing-based US-China Health Products Association, said quality issues continued to plague many products emanating from China.

"I don't know this particular product but Chinese medicine companies are always getting nailed for quality issues. You can see it in the news on a somewhat regular basis,"​ Crowther said. 

"The Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) industry still needs lots of development. There are a variety of toxins that can enter the supply chain for the huge amount of pesticides to the chemicals used to preserve."​ 

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