Death toll rising: Vaping companies hire Florida lab to test products

Reporter: Sara Girard
Published: Updated:
Rodger Brown, CEO of ACS Laboratory, with Sara Girard, WINK News investigative reporter.

What’s causing mystery vaping illnesses? As the number of people getting sick and dying grows, more companies are looking to labs to test their products for impurities.

WINK News got an exclusive look inside ACS Laboratory in Sun City Center, just south of Tampa. CEO Roger Brown says his clinical lab tests all kinds of cannabis products for companies in 23 states, for things like contaminants and potency.

β€œWe test hemp cartridges, we test marijuana cartridges,” Brown said. “And we have been inundated with cartridges from all of our clients and even some clients we didn’t have.”

Recently his lab developed a way to test them for vitamin E, a common thickening oil some federal agencies suspect may be causing the lung issues.

“When it comes down to your body temperature, it solidifies,” Brown said. β€œAnd coats the inside of your lungs.”

But just this week, the Mayo Clinic released a report saying the injuries they looked at were more similar to chemical burns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about vaping, as in which brands, oils, or cartridges, are making so many people sick. In the meantime, the CDC is warning people to stop using electronic cigarettes.

Brown suspects low-quality products are the problem.

“There are fake counterfeit cartridges out on the market all over the place,” Brown said.

For example, he says even if you buy a high quality oil, a cheap cartridge might leak out heavy metals that eventually end up in your lungs.

On Monday, Fort Myers husband and dad of two, Evan Dowling, talked to WINK News after he was hospitalized with a vaping related illness. He said he thought he did his research before buying and using the product.

MORE: Fort Myers man warning others after using e-cigarettes nearly killed him

β€œI got it from a friend I trusted, and it still ended up being counterfeit stuff,” Dowling said.

Today, he’s sworn off vaping for good.

β€œIt was something I just did for recreation that could’ve cost me my living, my passion, and ultimately my life,” Dowling said.


The CDC says no single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases, but most of the people reporting health issues say they vaped with THC or a combination of THC and nicotine.

According to the CDC website, “The outbreak is occurring in the context of a dynamic marketplace for e-cigarette, or vaping, products, which may have a mix of ingredients, complex packaging and supply chains, and include potentially illicit substances.

“Users may not know what is in their e-cigarette or e-liquid solutions. Many of the products and substances can be modified by suppliers or users. They can be obtained from stores, online retailers, from informal sources (e.g. friends, family members), or β€œoff the street.”

The FDA strengthened its warning Friday. It says everyone should stop using vaping products, specifically with THC and anything bought “off the street.”

If you’re using these devices and experience coughing, shortness of breath or chest pain, see a doctor right away.

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