The selling of 13 commonly used drugs was halted at the weekend after state media reported that they were found to contain excessive levels of chromium.
The order came from the mainland's drug watchdog, the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), after CCTV reported on Sunday that the drugs had been packed into capsules made from industrial gelatin, which contains far more chromium than allowed in edible products.
And following the report, police said that staff at one gelatin-making factory, Xueyang Gelatin, in Hebei , set fire to its offices, destroying all computers and documents in what authorities are treating as an arson case. Police said the factory's general manager, Song Xunjie , started the fire, China Central Television reported.
Police in Zhejiang province caught 22 people suspected of producing or selling the contaminated capsules, Xinhua reported. The affected drugs varied, ranging from amoxicillin to those used to treat the common cold.
Chromium is a heavy metal that a person requires in small amounts, but which can be toxic in larger quantities. Under mainland regulations, only edible gelatin may be used to make capsules, with animal skins and bones used to make the gelatin, rather than industrial waste such as leather scraps, which CCTV reported that some manufacturers had used.
The report said that two gelatin manufacturers, one from Jiangxi province and the other from Hebei , had sold industrial-grade gelatin to capsule makers in Xinchang county, Zhejiang , which then sold the capsules to drug companies across the nation.
Nine drug companies were found to have packaged some of their drugs with such capsules. Laboratory tests showed that the most seriously contaminated capsules contained 90 times more chromium than allowed, the report said.
CCTV said the two capsule makers in Xinchang did not have equipment for testing chromium levels, and some of the drug companies did not test the capsules either.
A staff member of the Changchun Haiwai Pharmaceutical Group, one of the drug companies revealed to have used contaminated capsules, was quoted as saying: 'We don't test the content of chromium or lead.
'We should have done it according to normal procedures.'
Another staff member of the company said the omission of tests was because they were 'troublesome'.
Xueyang Gelatin sells more than 70 per cent of its products to capsule makers in Xinchang, general manager Song was quoted as saying.
The gelatin maker in Jiangxi, Guifeng Gelatin, has about 100 customers from Xinchang, its chief, Li Mingyuan , was quoted as saying.
Both Li's and Song's mobile phones were switched off yesterday. A woman staff member at the Guifeng factory said that the factory had ceased production.
Four people in charge of the two capsule manufactures in Xinchang had been taken into police custody.
Year by which chemical drugs and biological products should reach or be close to international standards, according to the State Council