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No contamination found in drink cans

Reports of cans of Pepsi-Cola products containing syringes and hypodermic needles continue to be recorded.

Tuesday, police in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Michigan reported that consumers said they had found the objects in soft drinks.

The four new reports brought to 14 the number of incidents reported in 10 states in six days, although authorities in none of the locations could determine whether the materials were put in the cans during production or later. That question and others were being studied by the Food and Drug Administration, which is investigating each incident through local offices.

The latest police reports came from Branson, Mo.; Melvindale, Mich.; Glen Ellyn, Ill., a suburb of Chicago; and Mustang, a suburb of Okhahoma City.

In addition, investigators said Tuesday that they were looking into other reports of similar objects in soft-drink cans.

The FDA announced Tuesday that a laboratory analysis of the first two cans found with a needle or syringe, both in the Seattle area, showed that the contents had not been contaminated with any chemical substance.

For Pepsi-Cola Co., the widely scattered reports have become a public relations nightmare. A company spokesman, Andrew Giangola, said that in the absence of any reported injury the company planned no product recalls.

"Right now, we're just trying to sort through the facts, sifting out truthful claims from hyperbole," said Giangola, a spokesman for Pepsi in Somers, N.Y.

A major difficulty, he said, was that some of the information about compromised cans had reached the company through news reports, rather than from consumers or police authorities.

"We have yet to confirm that any of these reports concern an unopened container," Giangola said. "There have been no injuries reported, and there is no health risk to consumers. We see no reason for a product recall, and the FDA concurs."

Pepsico stock dropped 63 cents Tuesday, closing at $35.63, after a 25-cent drop on Monday.

Although the company said it had received no reports of injuries, Lenny Schouest, a shipyard worker in New Orleans, where three incidents have been reported, said a bent needle from a can of Pepsi he bought on Sunday cut his lip.

So far, this wave of reports of tampering appears less serious than previous tampering episodes, including those involving over-the-counter medication. In 1982, for example, seven people in the Chicago area died after taking Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide.

Giangola described senior executives of Pepsi as "concerned, very concerned" but not so much so that they felt it necessary to pull Pepsi products from store shelves.

Between the first incidents and those reported Tuesday, stories of compromised cans have come from Wyoming, Iowa, Ohio, California, two in Louisiana and a second in Missouri.

All the reports involve Pepsi products, except for one from a woman in Van Nuys, Calif., whose claim that she found a needle in a can of Diet Coke was judged a hoax by local police. But there, similarities seem to end. Consumers have claimed they found objects in regular Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi, in a single can, a six-pack, and, in at least one case, a 12-pack.

Giangola said company officials have discerned "no pattern" in the incidents. That, combined with the fact that neither Pepsi officials nor FDA officials have confirmed any claims that the objects were inside sealed cans, as alleged, left open the possibility that some reports could be untruthful.

In 1984, the FDA investigated nearly 500 complaints of tainted Girl Scout Cookies, substantiating none of them.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner David Kessler said the complaints appear to be unrelated. "History shows that after an initial complaint of tampering receives widespread publicity, (there are) subsequent complaints, many of which turn out to be false," he said.

In Branson, a growing resort town that is a center for country and western music, police reported that a 21-year-old man said he had purchased a six-pack of Pepsi in a grocery store, returned to his car, poured the contents of one can into a cup and watched a three-quarter-inch needle come out.

Steve Mefford, the Branson police chief, said his department notified the FBI and Pepsi officials, although the FBI has left the investigation of each incident with the FDA.

Dean St. Dennis, a Justice Department spokesman, said the FBI is monitoring the cases and would only get involved if it appeared that a crime had been committed, if a consumer is injured or if the pattern of incidents suggested a scheme of extortion or ransom.