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Mineral Water Sabotage Scare Hits Italy

December 12, 2003

ROME (AP) _ Several people fell ill across Italy on Friday after drinking apparently tainted bottled mineral water, the latest in a scare that has prompted prosecutors to launch investigations across the nation.

The case centers on a series of apparent sabotages in which bottles of mineral water have been injected with household bleach just below the cap.

Since the first reported case on Nov. 19, reports of tainted water have multiplied, with concern spreading to other bottled and canned drinks including milk and fruit juice.

Italian hospitals have treated some 50 people for digestive tract irritation, though none of the cases has resulted in serious illness, said a spokesman for the anti-adulteration squad of Italy’s Carabinieri military police.

Authorities suspect criminal involvement in some of the earlier tampering, but they also say the Italian media focus on the cases may have encouraged ``copycat″ actions across the country.

At least two people reporting cases to the police later confessed to having tampered with the bottles themselves in an effort to gain attention, officials said.

Thousands of bottles of mineral water have been removed from stores for testing, and authorities have cautioned consumers to carefully check bottles before opening them.

In one case Friday, a 28-year-old housewife was treated at a hospital in southern Italy for burns to her mouth and stomach after drinking milk from a carton, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

In Rome, a 27-year-old man was being treated for stomach burns after drinking from a bottle of mineral water, ANSA said. The bottle was punctured and let off a strong smell of bleach, the report said.

In total, more than 500 cases have been reported, with most concentrated in Italy’s north, officials said.

Italians are among the top per capita consumers of bottled water in Europe, though Italian tap water is generally safe to drink. The country suffered a similar scare in 1998, when animal rights activists injected Christmas cakes with rat poison.