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The Big Take

A Tiny Lab Finds Danger on Drugstore Shelves While the FDA Lags Behind

Valisure has found tainted heart burn pills, sunscreens and dry shampoos, shaking up products that generate more than $9 billion in sales. Why are they outrunning regulators?

A Valisure senior research associate mixes N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone solvent with a research sample of Zantac 150 to test at the Valisure lab in New Haven.

A Valisure senior research associate mixes N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone solvent with a research sample of Zantac 150 to test at the Valisure lab in New Haven.

Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

David Light can’t wait to show off his tchotchkes. The curly haired scientist lights up with boyish enthusiasm when he picks up a black coffee mug from the endless array of memorabilia in his office. It’s emblazoned with the trademark lettering of Zantac, the blockbuster heartburn drug. He quickly moves on to a Zantac wine glass from 1983, when the heartburn drug was approved for sale in the US, and then a white and blue Zantac Swiss army knife. A globe, then a t-shirt, next a hat — all stamped with the drug’s branding.

One floor above his office is the lab where groundbreaking Zantac research took place. But Light didn’t create Zantac — he nearly destroyed it. In the process, he’s also become a stand-in, protecting the American public from cancer-causing chemicals in place of a federal regulator that’s failed to do the job.