Evidence shows that cheap masks from China have cornered U.S. domestic manufacturers, according to a report by Nikkei Asia. As a result, industry professionals are now calling on the Biden administration to take immediate action to ensure self-sufficiency over the national security concerns.
The American Mask Manufacturer’s Association (AMMA) highlighted to President Joe Biden in an updated 1,458-word letter on May 13 the challenges faced by U.S. mask manufacturers. It exposed that China has been continually dumping its products in the U.S. market at well below actual cost.
While there are $0.03–$0.06 of raw materials that go into every surgical mask produced—a cost that is the same everywhere in the world—Chinese masks are sold for less than $0.01 in the United States, the letter noted. Consequently, around 260 million American-made masks are left unsold and stockpiled in warehouses. At the same time, U.S. manufacturers have had to cut 2,647 jobs.
A case in point is the company Premium-PPE, whose workforce has plummeted from 280 to around 50 and whose monthly production has plunged nearly 90 percent from last year’s peak.
“Selling the mask for less than a penny is not possible,” expressed Brent Dillie, the chief revenue officer of Premium-PPE, according to Nikkei Asia.
Lloyd Armbrust, the founder and CEO of Armbrust American, told NPR that the AMMA’s 28 members would go out of business in the next 60 to 90 days. Five of them have already stopped production, he said.
“When they go out of business, it’s not like we turn off the lights and mothball these machines. We send them to the dump. That capacity that we created goes away,” Armbrust said.
More alarmingly, the AMMA pointed out a fact that a portion of Chinese imports fail to meet American health and safety standards.
A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that 31.5 percent, or 103 of 326 masks, tested by the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) failed to meet the Chinese KN95 standard (GB 2626-2019) and the NIOSH standard (42 CFR Part 84) of 95 percent particulate filtration protection.
Additionally, 70 percent of Chinese KN95 masks tested failed to meet minimum standards, according to the Emergency Care Research Institute (ERCI). The institute concluded that “U.S. hospitals bought hundreds of thousands of masks produced in China [that] aren’t safe and effective against the spread of COVID-19.”
The open letter also sent a warning that China’s unfair trade practices will “threaten the viability of our industry and the welfare of every single American,” and that cheap Chinese products flooding the U.S. market will put “our healthcare workers at risk for current and future pandemics” if the situation is taken from the perspective of national security.
As such, the association earnestly requested that the Biden administration immediately remove the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization for non-U.S. based manufacturers; immediately require the federal government, and anyone receiving federal dollars for PPE reimbursement, to buy Berry-Amendment Compliant masks, that is, items manufactured in the United States; and review the Strategic National Stockpile and remove masks that fail to meet American standards; among others suggestions to ensure American manufacturing capacity.
The open letter was co-signed by 34 representatives from small and midsize companies of the industry.