Milk tea samples test negative for 4 toxins

By Sheila Crisostomo and Aie Balagtas See
Milk tea samples test negative for 4 toxins

Samples of the milk tea that killed a teahouse owner and his customer in Sampaloc, Manila last week tested negative for four poisonous substances, Health Secretary Janette Garin said yesterday.

According to Garin, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to detect cyanide, arsenic, nitrate and nitrite in the milk tea samples submitted by the Manila Police District.

“But it does not mean that there really was no (toxic substance). When we determine the whole clinical picture, we look at all aspects – the time line, the manifestations on patients, how they collected the samples. Were the samples tampered or replaced? These are the things that will be explored by proper agencies,” she said during a press briefing.

Cause of death

Death certificates show that Ergo Cha owner William Abrigo and his customer Suzaine Dagohoy, who both died after drinking Hokkaido milk tea on April 9, ingested a “toxic substance.”

Autopsy findings by two different government physicians show that “shock secondary to ingestion of toxic substance” was the “cause of death.”

“As you can see, the results are the same,” a source said.

Dagohoy and Arnold Aydallah were Abrigo’s first customers last Thursday. They ordered Hokkaido milk tea, which Abrigo himself made.

Aydalla survived but Abrigo and Dagohoy died at the Ospital ng Sampaloc.

More tests

Garin said the tests have been expanded to include biological samples such as blood, tissue and gastric contents collected from Dagohoy and Abrigo during the autopsy.

The autopsy samples will be tested by the Philippine National Police for the four substances plus oxalic acid, nitrobenzene and lead.

Garin said aside from testing the milk tea samples, they also worked with the toxicologists from the Philippine General Hospital to study the surveillance footage from the teahouse to assess the “clinical manifestations and course of illness” of the victims.

“The situation appears to be an isolated event, pointing to a possible case of poisoning. Let me emphasize that this is isolated. In fact, this was the third time the couple bought milk tea at the same food establishment. No untoward incident happened during the previous intake,” she said.

Limited samples

According to FDA deputy director general Ma. Lourdes Santiago, examining the limited milk tea samples was a “challenge” for the agency.

FDA investigators had only 500 milliliters (ml) to work with but they need at least one to two liters to get more accurate results in testing for several substances, she said.

Santiago said after testing for four substances, the FDA is left with barely 200 ml.

She said they are researching methods that would involve using small samples, “but again there is a question when it comes to accuracy… Autopsy is the most conclusive (method now).”