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Japanese warned against poisoned soft drinks

By
MARIE OKABE

TOKYO -- Authorities Friday warned the public, vending machine operators and retailers of toxic substances to beware of poisoned soft drinks that have killed at least five people in the last two months.

The National Police Agency said preparations for a nationwide campaign were under way to prevent further poisonings, believed caused by herbicide-tainted soft drinks placed in vending machines.

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Five people who drank vending machine beverages laced with paraquat have died since July and police report three other fatal poisonings since January.

Police say they are trying to determine if there is a link between the incidents, reported mostly in western Japan. No arrests have been made.

Tokyo police said they began distributing warning leaflets throughout the capital after a college student Wednesday drank a vending machine soft drink laced with an insecticide and required hospitalization.

The leaflets warned people to inspect vending machine slots before making soft drink purchases, to check if beverage caps had been tampered with and to be wary of suspicious-looking containers.

The warnings called on vending machine operators to check their merchandise and urged drug stores and retailers of poisonous substances to clamp down on illegal buyers of toxic chemicals and keep accurate records.

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The National Police Agency asked soft drink manufacturers to help prevent further incidents.

Officials of the National Soft Drink Manufacturer's Association were not available for comment, but a member company said the group planned to put warning stickers on vending machines.

The manufacturers are also considering newspaper advertisements warning the public about the scandal, said a spokesman for Otsuka Seiyaku, the manufacturer of 'Oronamin C' -- one of the beverages that have been targeted in the poisonings.

In the latest reported poisonings, a 50-year-old man was hospitalized Wednesday after drinking a beverage tainted with paraquat in a town in the western prefecture of Wakayama. He was listed in serious condition.

A 40-year-old housewife became ill Thursday after drinking a vending machine soft drink in the western prefecture of Shizuoka. Police are examining the beverage.

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