California fertility clinic failure could affect many patients

A California fertility clinic confirmed Sunday that a liquid nitrogen tank containing thousands of eggs and embryos failed, potentially affecting hundreds of patients.

The failure, which was first reported by the The Washington Post, came days after an unrelated malfunction at another fertility clinic in Ohio.

Tom Becker, a spokesman for the clinic, confirmed the story by The Post, which reported that the clinic began notifying 400 patients on Saturday who had several thousand eggs and embryos stored in a tank that malfunctioned on March 4.

A fertility specialist, Dr. Carl Herbert, attributed the malfunction to a chemical failure that caused the temperature within the tank to rise, according to The Post.

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Inside the operations at a fertility clinic
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LAURE FILLON An employee at the clinic Eugin prepares a sample of sperm and an egg for the process of fertilization under the microscope on May 25, 2016 in Barcelona. 'Making parents out of our patients,' reads an ad in Madrid's metro for one of Spain's many fertility clinics that have opened their doors to husband and wives, same-sex couples and single women thanks to lenient laws. Every year, more than 5,000 people walk through the glass doors of one of these IVI clinic / AFP / LLUIS GENE (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LAURE FILLON An employee at the clinic Eugin manipulates samples of embryos, eggs and sperm cryopreserved in a nitrogen tank.on May 25, 2016 in Barcelona. 'Making parents out of our patients,' reads an ad in Madrid's metro for one of Spain's many fertility clinics that have opened their doors to husband and wives, same-sex couples and single women thanks to lenient laws. Every year, more than 5,000 people walk through the glass doors of one of these IVI clinic / AFP / LLUIS GENE (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LAURE FILLON An employee at the clinic Eugin prepares a sample of sperm and an egg for the process of fertilization under the microscope on May 25, 2016 in Barcelona. 'Making parents out of our patients,' reads an ad in Madrid's metro for one of Spain's many fertility clinics that have opened their doors to husband and wives, same-sex couples and single women thanks to lenient laws. Every year, more than 5,000 people walk through the glass doors of one of these IVI clinic / AFP / LLUIS GENE (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LAURE FILLON An employee at the clinic Eugin manipulates samples of embryos, eggs and sperm cryopreserved in a nitrogen tank.on May 25, 2016 in Barcelona. 'Making parents out of our patients,' reads an ad in Madrid's metro for one of Spain's many fertility clinics that have opened their doors to husband and wives, same-sex couples and single women thanks to lenient laws. Every year, more than 5,000 people walk through the glass doors of one of these IVI clinic / AFP / LLUIS GENE (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
Numbered test tubes sit in a container used to freeze human eggs in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) at the Genesis fertility clinic in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The recession, and loose regulation amid government spending cuts, may have helped the fertility industry. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LAURE FILLON An employee at the clinic Eugin manipulates samples of embryos, eggs and sperm cryopreserved in a nitrogen tank.on May 25, 2016 in Barcelona. 'Making parents out of our patients,' reads an ad in Madrid's metro for one of Spain's many fertility clinics that have opened their doors to husband and wives, same-sex couples and single women thanks to lenient laws. Every year, more than 5,000 people walk through the glass doors of one of these IVI clinic / AFP / LLUIS GENE (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
Employees work in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) at the Genesis fertility clinic in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The recession, and loose regulation amid government spending cuts, may have helped the fertility industry. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Kostas Pantos, chief gynaecologist, poses for a photograph at the Genesis fertility clinic where he works in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The recession, and loose regulation amid government spending cuts, may have helped the fertility industry. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Numbered test tubes sit in a container used to freeze human eggs in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) at the Genesis fertility clinic in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The recession, and loose regulation amid government spending cuts, may have helped the fertility industry. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee works with a liquid solution in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) at the Genesis fertility clinic in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The recession, and loose regulation amid government spending cuts, may have helped the fertility industry. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An employee uses an electronic microscope during the process of human egg fertilisation in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) at the Genesis fertility clinic in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The recession, and loose regulation amid government spending cuts, may have helped the fertility industry. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An image of human eggs magnified through an electronic microscope sits on a computer screen during the fertilisation process in a laboratory for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) at the Genesis fertility clinic in Athens, Greece, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. The recession, and loose regulation amid government spending cuts, may have helped the fertility industry. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The cause of that failure — and the number of damaged eggs and embryos — remained unclear.

In Cleveland, officials at the University Hospitals Fertility Center said the failure there caused the temperature to rise inside the area where tissue was stored, possibly damaging 2,100 eggs and embryos belonging to more than 600 families.

A class-action lawsuit filed Sunday called the failure — the cause of which has not yet been identified — "gross negligence and an utter breach of trust."

Amber and Elliott Ash, a couple who had an embryo in storage at the facility, filed the suit.

In a statement Sunday, the hospital said it understood why some might sue.

"Any lawsuits being filed will have no bearing on the independent review being conducted or our determination to help patients who have suffered this loss," the statement said.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine said the failure in Cleveland was the first malfunction of its kind — even as the popularity of egg freezing has risen among young women seeking to preserve their fertility.

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