French firm blamed for Italy frozen embryo accident

April 2, 2012

An Italian hospital director on Monday blamed French industrial gas giant Air Liquide for an accident in an assisted reproduction lab last week that destroyed 94 embryos frozen in liquid nitrogen.

Air Liquide declined to comment on the accusation, after saying earlier that it had opened an internal investigation into what happened and would pay out compensation to would-be parents if the accident was indeed its fault.

Prosecutors on Monday also opened an inquiry, although officials said they had not yet determined whether or not the embryos should be considered living beings, which could lead to a possible investigation for manslaughter.

"It's Air Liquide's responsibility. The least they could do is explain what happened," Domenico Alessio, director of the San Filippo Neri hospital in Rome, told Il Messaggero daily, saying the incident was "unimaginable".

In another interview with La Stampa daily he also admitted, however, that an alarm went off in the hospital when the temperature began to rise but "no-one heard it" because it was in a basement while the lab was on the second floor.

Alessio told Il Messaggero he was "angry" that he had not yet received a report from Air Liquide on what happened after the incident on March 27.

"This is unacceptable. We are talking about a contract granted to the most important company for this type of service," he said.

In a statement on Sunday, Air Liquide said it followed strict procedures.

"We are profoundly sorry for this event, which contrasts with the security and quality standards that the company pursues and guarantees its clients," Andrea Saitta, director of Air Liquide Sanita Service, was quoted as saying.

"The company undertakes to pay out due compensation if its responsibility is confirmed," he said. The statement added that the lab system in place included an alarm to warn technicians if the liquid nitrogen was running out.

Air Liquide Sanita Service works with 600 hospitals across Italy.

Ninety-four embryos, 130 ovocyte egg cells and five sperm samples were lost after the temperature in which they were being kept frozen rose from minus 196 degrees Celsius (minus 321 Fahrenheit) to plus 20 degrees Celsius.

"It's clear that the nitrogen that should have kept the temperature stable was no longer there but it's the prosecutors who have to work out why this happened, why there were no alarms to avert the worst," Alessio said.

Officials said that the accident affected around 40 would-be parents, although they said all the women involved still had a chance of conceiving. Some of the couples have already said that they plan to sue over the accident.

The consumer rights group Codacons said it estimated that parents could obtain a total of one million euros ($1.4 million) in compensation.

It also emerged on Monday that a couple in Milan were suing a lab over a power cut that led to the loss of their three embryos in May 2007.

The lawyers for the couple in the Milan case, Susanna Zimmaro and Anna Barbaccia, said the incident at San Filippo Neri "is certainly not the first case in Italy and unfortunately is not such a rare event."

Explore further: China hospital disposes of live baby

Related Stories

China hospital disposes of live baby

November 4, 2011
Health authorities in south China said Friday they were investigating a hospital medical team for mistakenly diagnosing a stillbirth and disposing of a baby that was alive.

Heatstroke cases up as Japan saves electricity

July 14, 2011
Heatstroke cases in Japan have shot up in the early summer as many air-conditioners have been switched off amid an energy saving campaign following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.