Couple sues over mold in oxygen tanks

7:46 PM, Jun 13, 2007   |    comments
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Jack Newell and Linda Newell of Littleton claim the company has long known about the mold problem, but has done nothing to correct it.

Jack Newell suffers from emphysema and obstructive pulmonary disease. He has survived on oxygen for the past 10 years. However, the Newells have frequently complained to Apria HealthCare about a variety of problems with the tanks.

In 2000, they filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration. They supplied federal investigators with photographs of mold growing in plastic tubing that carries condensation away from coils on the top of the tank. The condensation sits in a collector tray under cooling coils at the top of the tanks. The Newells claim that Apria refills the tanks each week without cleaning out the trays.

Newell is a 1950 engineering graduate from Princeton University. "I know what I'm talking about," he said. "I even suggested a design change to them that would eliminate the standing water in the tank, but they wouldn't do it."

A federal investigation in 2001 cited the Newell's complaint and disclosed that the couple had found mold and caterpillars in the bottle which collects condensation. It notes that Apria HealthCare did an investigation of the incident and determined that the courier who delivered the oxygen did not follow proper handling procedures because the tanks were delivered on an open-bed truck. It ordered couriers in the future to cover all equipment or not use open-bed trucks.

The Newells did not file a lawsuit at that time, but the company gave them an undisclosed settlement. A confidentiality agreement was signed.

However, the Newells say they had ongoing problems. On June 1 of this year, they filed the lawsuit claiming a variety of problems with oxygen equipment including "missed deliveries, faulty equipment, dirty equipment and failure to provide correct equipment."

Click here to read the lawsuit filed by the Newells.

A statement from Apria HealthCare in Lake Forest, California acknowledged the lawsuit. A company vice president said, "Apria HealthCare denies that it has been the cause of any adverse health consequences alleged by Mr. or Mrs. Newell." It goes on to say the Newells have made numerous complaints over the 10 years that they have used oxygen tanks from Apria, but have refused offers to arrange the delivery of equipment from other sources.

The company said, "All Apria locations are accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations." It said the Littleton Apria office has been inspected many times over the years and has never been found to be deficient.

Click here to read the entire statement from Apria HealthCare.

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