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18 Apr 12 Chrome-plated Capsule Moulds A Graver Threat

Related: Capsule Scandal Exposes Loopholes in Drug Quality Control

The chrome on the semi-mechanized assembly lines for medicine capsules poses a grave health hazard for patients, the Guangzhou-based Information Times reported on Wednesday.

Small scale factories in China use chrome-plated brass moulds on their semi-mechanized production lines for making hollow capsules, and when this chrome comes off, it can cause serious health problems as excessive intake of chromium can cause an array of chronic diseases.

The report comes after China Central Television revealed in an investigative program on Sunday that nine pharmaceutical companies were packaging medicines with capsules made with industrial gelatin, which contains a much higher degree of chromium than edible gelatin.

The industrial gelatin was made from waste leather at plants in Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Hebei provinces, China Daily reports. Normally, capsules are made with material from animal bones.

The Information Times quoted the manager of a factory based in south China surnamed Ma as saying that the moulds need to be re-plated with chrome at least twice a year. Capsule makers are reluctant to use stainless steel moulds, which are relatively safer, because the cost difference is massive. A set of imported stainless steel moulds costs more than 3.9 million yuan pre-tax, but chrome-plated brass moulds cost only 200,000 yuan.

Ma revealed that while the State Food and Drug Administration has licensed only 51 enterprises to produce capsules, the actual number of manufactures currently in production could be significantly higher. The problem is especially serious in healthcare products as government supervision is even more lax in that sector.

As the industrial gelatin made from waste leather tends to be brittle, manufacturers add chemicals in order to increase the gel strength of the capsules, Ma disclosed.

Pharmaceutical companies, however, only consider the price and physical properties of the capsules, such as their density and solubility.

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