Police in Italy are trying to find saboteurs who have been injecting poisonous substances into bottled water. About a dozen people across the country have ended up in hospital after drinking contaminated mineral water, and reports of plastic bottles, juice containers and milk cartons with needle marks or suspicious leaks are flooding police stations. So far, carabinieri have followed up 83 reports (30 in northern Italy, 40 in the centre and Sardinia and 13 in the south), and 14 bottles were found to contain foreign substances including bleach, ammonia, acetone and liquid soap.

The saboteur has been dubbed the "Acquabomber" by the media after the "Unabomber" who booby-trapped items in Italian supermarkets with explosives in recent years. However, investigators think it unlikely that one person or organisation is behind the water poisoning incidents, which show no pattern in location, method or substances used.

Italians drank about 172 litres of mineral water each in 2002, and despite the poisoning scare, industry experts say they are not expecting a decline in 2003. The 280 brands of mineral water available in Italy are worth around 3 billion a year. The Nestl group has 24.5 per cent of the market share, and owns well-known labels including Levissima, San Pellegrino, Panna, Vera and San Bernardo.