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Pharmacy puts some blame on cleaner

The Framingham compounding pharmacy blamed for producing tainted steroid injections that have killed dozens of people across the country is pointing the finger elsewhere.

Attorneys for New England Compounding Center recently sent a letter to UniFirst Corp., a Wilmington company that provides uniforms and cleaning services, demanding UniFirst take legal responsibility for claims against the pharmacy for the tainted drugs.

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UniFirst acknowledged that its UniClean subsidiary helped clean portions of the pharmacy’s cleanroom facility in Framingham. But UniFirst insisted the cleaning services were limited and it was not responsible for the contaminated drugs. The firm said two of its technicians cleaned portions of New England Compounding’s cleanroom for about 90 minutes once a month ­using the pharmacy’s own cleansing solutions.

“UniClean was not in any way responsible for NECC’s day-to-day operations, its overall facility cleanliness, or the integrity of the products they produced,” said UniFirst spokesman ­Adam Soreff. “We believe any NECC claims against UniFirst or UniClean are unfounded and without merit.”

Federal investigators found widespread evidence of mold and other contamination when they visited New England Compounding in October. At least 656 patients who received the injections for back pain last year, including 39 who died, have become ill from fungal meningitis or other infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dozens of patients have sued the company, prompting New England Compounding to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month. The company has pledged to help put together a fund to pay victims, but reported in bankruptcy filings that it had less than $10 million in assets — far less than some plaintiffs lawyers say is needed.

Fredric Ellis, a Boston attorney representing some victims, said New England Compounding may be seeking other companies to contribute to the settlement fund, though it is unclear how many other companies it has asked to help shoulder responsibility. A company spokesman was unable to provide more information on Thursday. The pharmacy has closed, surrendered its license, and recalled its products.

Some patients have also sued other companies they suspect could share blame, including Analytical Research Laboratories, an Oklahoma firm that helped test products for the pharmacy. The firm declined to comment.

UniFirst first disclosed the letter from New England Compounding, which it said it received this week, in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

Ellis said he is trying to obtain a subpoena to find out whether UniClean might share responsibility. UniClean provides cleanroom services to companies around the country.

It is unclear whether regulators have found evidence that other companies share blame for the outbreak. The Food and Drug Administration and state Department of Public Health declined to comment.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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