Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $1 billion deal to bring sorely needed medical-grade masks to the state’s health care workers. But a new investigation from VICE has found that the company manufacturing the goods has been accused of delivering substandard products to American taxpayers, including in California.
VICE reporter Keegan Hamilton reports that BYD, a major global player in the electric vehicle and lithium battery markets, registered with the Chinese government to start making respirator masks a couple of weeks ago.
“Both the federal government and the state of California did not allow these masks to be imported specifically for use in health care settings,” Hamilton says. “But because there's such a shortage of the N95 mask, which is sort of the gold standard for health care workers, they've opened the door to get these KN95, which are a cheaper alternative to the N95 in here to sort of boost the supply.”
The FDA says that these KN95 masks are safe to use, but Hamilton also points out that the agency isn’t currently able to inspect the factory where the masks are being made. BYD has been accused of making shoddy products, including in business dealings with the Los Angeles City government.
Southern California officials awarded the company some $330 million in contracts, grants and subsidies for its battery-powered buses, forklifts and trucks. An LA Times investigation found that the buses stalled on hills, had unpredictable driving ranges, and were impaired by cold and heat. Now state lawmakers are pushing to make sure that BYD’s masks will function properly.
“State lawmakers are asking for more assurances that these are going to be the quality that people need in order to not get sick. That said, I mean, we're in an emergency situation, and the governor is using his emergency powers to try to get people the supplies they need,” Hamilton says. “So whether state lawmakers will stop this or slow it down, it’s a question in itself as to whether that's a good idea.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story featured a headline that mischaracterized the accusations against BYD. BYD has disputed these kinds of allegations in the past. About the delivery of electric buses, BYD executives reportedly said at the time that the company received overwhelmingly positive feedback transit districts, and suggested critics were overstating technology problems. The headline has been updated.