A bottle of Visine A.C. eye drops purchased in a Northern Virginia drugstore was found to contain acid yesterday after a Reston woman said the drops burned her eyes. Fairfax County police said last night that they have serious reservations about the woman's story.
"We have very grave reservations about her complaint," Col. Carroll Buracker, the county police chief, said last night at a press conference.Although he declined to give many details, he said that the woman had had a previous dispute with the drugstore, had declined to take a lie-detector test and had filed an insurance claim against the store alleging injury.
"If I had a problem with my eyes, I would not hesitate to use Visine," the chief said.
"We're concerned," he said, "that people can make these kinds of complaints, the media responds . . . and innocent people and innocent companies are hurt."
Reached after the press conference by telephone at home, the woman, Debra Hill, 30, stood by her original account and said the police reaction "makes me really angry."
She acknowledged that she had declined to take a polygraph test about the matter.
After being told about the chief's statement, she said it "sounds like somebody is trying to cover up something and put the blame where it doesn't belong. It really makes me angry. I'm the one who suffered the injury to the eye. It could have happened to anybody."
Last night's developments came after the bottle of Visine A.C. the woman said she purchased Friday at a Drug Fair store in Herndon was tested by officials of the Food and Drug Administration, who said the bottle had been emptied and replaced with a mild solution of hydrochloric acid.
Tests of five other Visine A.C. bottles, all that remained on the store's shelf, showed no signs of tampering, the FDA said.
As a precaution, a number of drugstores in the area reported yesterday that they had removed from their own shelves bottles of the Visine solution -- a product marketed to relieve eye soreness caused by allergies or colds.
The Herndon case was reported Friday afternoon to authorities after Hill went to an emergency medical clinic in Reston complaining of burning and swelling in her left eye.
"The second it touched my left eye, it burned like fire," said the woman, who said she had bought the Visine on her way home Friday from a class at the Northern Virginia Community College.
She said she flushed her eye immediately with water, but noticed a "great bubble . . . almost like a blister" on her eyeball.
Doctors at the ACCESS Clinic in Reston tested the bottle's contents and found an abnormal acidity level, according to a spokeswoman for the Fairfax Hospital Association, which runs the clinic.
The matter was referred to the county police and to the FDA, which conducted further tests.
Hill, who is married and the mother of two children, was treated and released by the emergency clinic. She was considered in good condition by a hospital spokeswoman who said Friday night that it was not expected that she would suffer permanent damage.
Although Hill said she declined to take a lie detector test on police premises, she said she offered to take one at her home. While she had once had a disagreement with the store, she said, she considered it insignificant.
She denied that she has filed a claim against the drugstore.
A spokeswoman for Drug Fair's parent company declined to comment on the incident last night and referred a reporter to the police chief's statement on the matter.
Hill said she told the officer who asked her to take the polygraph test that "I am very nervous around any police or authority-type people. . . ." She said that she had "bad nerves" and that when she got nervous her blood pressure "gets sky-high."
She said she would "feel more secure" taking the test at her home, but that the police said "I'd have to come in" to a police station.
Concerning any past disagreement with the store, she said that she tried unsuccessfully about a year ago to exchange a box of film there that she found defective. But, she said, "it wasn't a dispute. . .I didn't worry about it."
In denying that she has filed a claim against the store, she said she had retained a Reston lawyer on an unrelated matter and went to his office Friday on that matter. On seeing her eye, she said, the lawyer's secretary asked her to get a copy of an accident report from the drugstore.
She said she did not obtain the report, but said "I haven't filed anything. . .I don't know that I have any intention of filing. . . ." The attorney she named could not be reached last night.
Police officials could not be reached for comment late last night on the woman's assertions.
According to an FDA spokesman, any tampering with the Visine should be visible to consumers since the bottles are sealed with tightly fitted plastic tape.
Hill, who said she purchased the eye drops because she said her eyes were tired from studying late Thursday night, said she did not remember whether the bottle had the tape, the so-called "shrink wrap," on it when she opened it Friday.
Two recent cases of apparent tampering with Visine, one in Florida and one in Colorado, came in the aftermath of accounts of the contamination of Tylenol capsules with cyanide that killed seven persons in the Chicago area.
In all known cases, the incidents have been ruled to be isolated and unconnected with the manufacturing proceses. "We are confident, 100 percent, that it didn't involve the plant," said a spokesman for Pfizer Inc., parent company of the makers of Visine.