Toxic ice pack sparks major health inquiry

The ice pack that almost proved fatal.
The ice pack that almost proved fatal.
POISONED: Dominic Mellare, 3, with parents Nicola and Luke at Westmead Children's Hospital.

POISONED: Dominic Mellare, 3, with parents Nicola and Luke at Westmead Children's Hospital.

TO three-year-old Dominic Mellare, it looked just like an iceblock and tasted "very yummy".

But within hours of secretly taking a few nibbles on the ice pack his mother Nicola had applied to his sore fingers after touching a hot stove, the East Seaham toddler had slipped into unconsciousness.

Rushed to John Hunter Hospital and later flown to The Children's Hospital at Westmead, it took doctors less than 24 hours to make their diagnosis. Dominic was suffering from diethylene glycol poisoning.

In May last year, counterfeit toothpaste contaminated with the highly toxic substance, commonly known as antifreeze and used in hydraulic and brake fluids as a coolant and a solvent, prompted a global recall.

The alarm was first raised in Panama, where more than 100 people had died the previous year after ingesting cough syrup contaminated with diethylene glycol.

It was later found the compound had been substituted for more expensive glycerine in the manufacturing process sourced to China.

But Dominic's mother was insistent that her son, in the immediate hours leading up to his collapse on Thursday last week, did not have access to either toothpaste or antifreeze.

It wasn't until his grandmother opened the freezer door on Friday morning and discovered the leaking ice pack that the connection was made, and little Dominic confirmed the doctors' diagnosis.

Initial testing at Westmead's laboratories pointed to the ice pack.

The laboratories were the origin of last November's detection of the presence of the "date rape" drug gamma-hydroxybutyric acid in the children's toy Bindeez that prompted another global recall.

NSW Health confirmed yesterday it had referred the matter on to federal authorities, and last night the Therapeutic Goods Administration said it was "aware of the incident and was investigating it as a matter of urgency".

But Mrs Mellare said she wanted to get the message out as soon as possible that the attractively packaged bright blue and pink ice packs sitting in family freezers might contain the potentially lethal substance, which has a naturally sweet flavour.

It is thought the diethylene glycol may have been used instead of propylene glycol, which has similar properties but is not toxic.

"We put these things in our children's lunch boxes," said Mrs Mellare.

"They are easy to chew through, the colour is attractive to children, it tastes sweet and there's no warning on the pack".

Mrs Mellare said there was no batch number printed on the pack, so there was no knowing how many products could be affected.

But authorities are stopping short of issuing a recall until investigations have been completed.

Last night Dominic appeared to be back to his normal cheerful active self, apart from sporadic raging temperatures.

The possibility of long- term damage to his kidneys and nervous system is still unknown.