In the spring of 2021, Royal Philips issued a voluntary recall of its CPAP machines, promising to replace the machines currently in use by customers. The product in the market used polyurethane foam in a construction that was supposed to keep it from breaking up, but tiny particles were traveling into users’ airways. Because polyurethane foam is highly toxic, even small amounts were sufficient to cause serious health problems, including lung cancer—a risk Philips was aware of.
Now, the US Department of Justice has requested information from Philips related to the events leading up to the recall, suggesting that it may be preparing to open an investigation.
CPAP (or continuous positive airway pressure) machines alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea by blowing air through a user’s nose. The pressurized air holds open the primary air passageway, which in patients with sleep apnea can close at night. As a result, patients achieve better sleep, and they avoid the risks associated with sleep apnea—which in severe cases can even cause death. For this reason, doctors have been prescribing them as a leading treatment for years.
Several years ago, Royal Philips released what appeared to be a revolutionary CPAP machine that solved two of the primary inadequacies of the machines then on the market: low air pressure and loud engine noise. In addition, it was far more comfortable than competing products, and it quickly became a market leader. However, the polyurethane foam used to insulate the engine wasn’t stable, leading to at least 124 deaths and many more injuries. To make matters worse, Philips has moved slowly to meet its promise of replacing the existing units in the marketplace.
Now, it appears that the Department of Justice may be opening an investigation into Philips over what events triggered the recall, and about its handling of the process. As this blog discusses in detail, the company’s slow progress means that many of its problematic CPAP machines are still being used, potentially causing more cases of respiratory illness and even lung cancer.
If you’re using a Philips CPAP machine now, you should likely talk to your doctor about finding a replacement. If you used one in the past and develop any of the illnesses related to CPAP use, talking with an experienced attorney can help you assess your case and determine the best path forward for securing relief.