New check on Po Chai pill factory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am

Inspectors from the Health Department will return to the factory that makes the highly popular Po Chai Pills, banned last week after authorities discovered they contained cancer-causing chemicals.

A recall is under way and sole manufacturer Li Chung Shing Tong announced 18 additional locations across the city, in addition to the five it listed earlier, where customers can return the pills for a refund. The department told the company on Wednesday to order the recall and so far 168,200 packs have been turned in.

Deputy Director of Health Gloria Tam Lai-fan said the department would investigate and that legal action was possible. 'We will inspect the factory again and see if there are other illegalities. If there is sufficient evidence, we cannot rule out the possibility that we will take necessary legal action,' she said.

A departmental investigation found the company initiated the recall in January after internal tests showed that the capsule version of its pills contained phenolphthalein, which can cause cancer, and sibutramine, which can cause an increase in blood pressure. It failed to notify the department though.

Tests found that the raw material of the powder had been contaminated. A department spokesman said it was bought from a source on the mainland in May 2008.

Television cameras captured an exchange between an elderly man and staff at Der Shing Pharmacity at Sha Kok Estate yesterday. A staff member told the elderly man that only the company's head office in North Point would accept parallel imports. 'My feet have problems and I cannot walk far. How can I make it to North Point? I will throw the pills away,' the man said.

Wong Wai-man, general manager of Man Tak Dispensary, Li Chung Shing Tong's Hong Kong wholesaler, said customers should go to Li Chung Shing Tong's head office to make sure they could get their money back.

'As the wholesaler, we would only buy back what we have sold,' Wong said.