A former domestic worker was yesterday jailed for three years for adding eucalyptus oil into breast milk meant for her two-month-old charge.
As District Judge Lee Poh Choo handed down the sentence, she said that what Annisa, 28, (right) did was cruel and unconscionable.
"The victim was only two months old, incapable of protecting himself and rejecting feed. There is no excuse for what you've done... You were employed to look after the baby, not to case him harm," she said.
Annisa, an Indonesian who goes by one name, pleaded guilty yesterday.
The court heard that she was hired by a property agent and his wife last year.
Her duties included household chores in their Ang Mo Kio home and caring for their two-month-old baby.
We are not naming the couple to protect the child's identity.
In the close to three months that she was working for the family, Annisa was reprimanded on a number of occasions for not performing her chores up to her employers' standard.
On Aug 23 last year, after the family went out for the day, she came across a bottle of PurerAire Eucalyptus oil in a storeroom on the first storey of the house.
While the oil is meant to be used in an air purifier, the domestic worker thought it was for removing stains.
She poured the oil into two packets of breast milk kept in the freezer.
When the family returned home later that day and her female employer opened the freezer to put in new bags of milk, there was a pungent smell coming from the first packet of milk she took out.
Sensing something was amiss, she opened all five packets of milk in the fridge to check, and realised that another packet had the same strange smell.
She told her husband about it and, after Annisa had gone to sleep, they searched her belongings and found a bottle of PurerAire Eucalyptus oil.
They called the police after confirming that the milk smelled of the oil.
According to a Health Sciences Authority (HSA) report, eucalyptol and terpineol were found in the tainted milk and in the bottle of oil.
MEANT TO SCARE EMPLOYER
Another HSA report stated that eucalyptol is a major component of eucalyptus oil but it is not advisable for children to consume eucalyptus oil. Terpineol is also found in several types of oils and there have been reported incidents where people have died after consuming the substance.
In mitigation, Annisa, who had no lawyer, said she was a divorcee who wanted to return to Indonesia to look after her mother.
She said she meant to scare her employer so they would get angry with her and send her home, claiming that she had previously said she wanted to be sent home, but her employer had refused.
Judge Lee, however, said the baby could have consumed the milk had the incident not been detected, and agreed with the prosecution that Annisa should be given a deterrent sentence.
Ill effects of eucalyptus
Eucalyptus oil can harm babies if consumed, said paediatricians contacted by The New Paper.
Dr Chew Su Yah, a children's emergency consultant at the National University Hospital (NUH), said that eucalyptus oil, if ingested, can cause a burning sensation in the mouth and throat.
"Depending on the severity of toxicity, the symptoms vary. Mild toxicity can result in abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In more severe cases, the central nervous system can be affected," she said.
Dr Chew said symptoms usually set in between 10 minutes and four hours and advised parents whose children have ingested eucalyptus to take them to the hospital immediately.
Dr Andrea Yeo, another children's emergency consultant at NUH, said that teripineol, which was also found in the tainted milk, is a common ingredient in perfumes, disinfectants and cleaners.
A person weighing 70kg would need at least two tablespoons for it to be lethal.
"By the sounds of it, I think you need to ingest quite a large amount of teripineol for it to be lethal," she said.
This article was first published on April 28, 2015.
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