Houston woman says she was sickened by contaminated Dr Pepper


by Jeff McShan / KHOU 11 News


Posted on November 1, 2011 at 10:19 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 2 at 4:46 PM

HOUSTON – A Houston woman says drinking a Dr Pepper made her so sick that she had to go to the hospital.

Three weeks ago, while making dinner, AmandaWomack said she sent her stepson to the T&W Quickstop to pick up some sodas. One of them was a Dr Pepper -- her favorite.

That night, Womack said she opened it at dinner and suddenly she knew something was wrong.

“I was belching gas,” Womack said.

Her fiancé, Kevin Hamilton, grabbed the 20-ounce bottle.

“And when he smelled it he said we need to go to the emergency room now, you know, because it smelled just like gas,” Womack said.

Womack said the soda’s cap wasn’t tampered with. It was sealed.

But on the bottom of the bottle, she said there was white spider web-looking spot. It was about the size of a nickel.

Hamilton decided to stop by the store to tell the clerk what had happened.

“As they proceeded to the back where the sodas were, they pulled the bottles down and they looked just like mine. And when they opened it they smelled just like gas,” Womack said.

By the time she got to the hospital, Womack said she was getting dizzy and throwing up.

She said doctors smelled the Dr Pepper and even called poison control seeking answers. Womack said it was scary because they didn’t know what chemicals they were dealing with.

And now, three weeks later, Hamilton said he’s still trying to find out how this happened and was hoping the city’s health department would help. He said they did not.

“I was informed by the city of Houston that I may need to get a test done on my own,” said Hamilton.

He took the Dr Pepper and another one from the store to an independent lab. It cost him $750.

He said a company called Dixie Labs confirmed his worst fears.

Dixie Lab’s report said the drinks had components of gasoline inside. There were chemicals such as naphthalene and benzene.

After Hamilton called and reported the incident, Dr Pepper and the City of Houston Health Department moved in. They found at least 22 contaminated bottles.

The clerk at the T&W Quickstop still had nine, and showed KHOU 11 News one of them.  For the first time, we got a chance to see what Womack and Hamilton were talking about.

The white spider web-looking spot on the bottom was very visible if you turned the bottle upside down.

How did this happen?  Were the sodas intentionally tampered with? Was it an accident?

“Was it something an employee maybe done? I mean who knows,” Hamilton said.

The Houston Health Department would only tell KHOU 11 News it was not its responsibility to find out how it happened.

But in its final report labeled “resolved,” it said the bottles were not contaminated at the Dr. Pepper facility, but could have been contaminated at a third-party location or at the store.

It claimed sodas that come in contact with a substance like gasoline can absorb it through the plastic bottles.

Is that what happened here?

“I am hoping this was the only bad batch and we got it all,” Hamilton said.

(Note: Both the Houston Health Department and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group have known about this incident for weeks and have seen no reason to issue a warning.  It appears to have been an isolated case.  If KHOU 11 News had reason to believe there was an imminent public health threat, we would have aired this story immediately.)

Dr Pepper Snapple Group Statement for KHOU:

At Dr Pepper Snapple Group, nothing is more important than well-being of our consumers and the quality and safety of our products. We were very concerned to learn about the experience Ms. Wolmack had with our product. In fact, we tested the product and other samples from the same production run and concluded that it was safe when it left our facility.

Throughout our investigation, we have been coordinating efforts with the health department and determined that this is a single, isolated incident. There have been no similar complaints or issues involving other consumers.

*** UPDATE 11/2/11 *** The FDA contacted Womack on Wednesday, and criminal investigators  will be going to her home.