The poison-control centers of Maryland and the District of Columbia reported yesterday that several dozen people have become mildly ill after accidentally drinking a new lemon-scented dishwashing liquid called "Sunlight."

Officials of the Maryland Poison Control Center said yesterday that 33 adults and 46 children have reported ingesting the new detergent since May 24. Many of those calling said they experienced mild nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sore throats, the officials said. In the District of Columbia, about 35 cases have been reported in the last six weeks, according to poison-control center officials, about half involving adults.

Local residents have been receiving free samples of the new Lever Brothers product since mid-June when the company began mailing them throughout the mid-Atlantic states as part of a promotional campaign. The yellow bottles feature a picture of a juicy, sliced lemon sandwiched between green letters advertising "real lemon juice" and a red stripe warning "dishwashing liquid." At bottom, large letters say "Caution: Harmful if Swallowed."

"It's properly labeled. It says it's a dishwashing soap, twice in fact, but it smells like lemons," said Jacquelyn Lucy, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Poison Control Center in Baltimore. "I think because it comes in the mail it's just left on the kitchen table and people put it in the refrigerator. Some people said they thought it was lemon juice and put it in their iced tea."

Bert Hochman, a company spokesman in New York City, said that there have been "very scattered" reports of people drinking the detergent since it was first introduced in Arizona two years ago.

"Any kind of cleaning product we introduce has a certain amount of ingestion," Hochman said, "Baltimore is the only real place where the numbers got larger."

Hochman added, "The company certainly regrets the incidents."

Lucy said the Maryland poison-control group alerted the company to the problem after noticing the number of adults who reported swallowing the fluid. None of the cases has been serious, she said, and victims have been advised to drink water or milk to dilute the detergent.

To warn children not to swallow the liquid, The National-Capital Poison Control Center, based at Georgetown University Hospital, will supply green "Mr. Yuk" stickers at no charge to area residents. The director, Dr. Toby Litovitz, explained that the stickers can be affixed to any nonedible substances. Parents can call 625-3333 to obtain the stickers.