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White House made $600m deal for mask washing machines that damage them

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  • The White House is part of a $600 million contract to purchase 60 face mask-cleaning machines actually damage their loads, NBC News reported.
  • The machines, made by Battelle Memorial Institute, clean N95 masks by disinfecting them with vapor phase hydrogen peroxide.
  • Battelle said its machines leave the masks still safe for use after 20 washes, but medical professionals told NBC that they became unsafe as little as two or three cycles.
  • Separate tests from the National Institutes of Health found that N95 masks were only safe for use after three washes by Battelle’s machines.
  • The deal between Battelle and the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency was announced on April 13, after the FDA granted Battelle a waiver after pressure from President Donald Trump.
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Last month, the White House coronavirus task force entered into a $600 million contract for 60 mask-cleaning machines.

But those machines end up damaging the masks, making them unsafe for healthcare workers, according to a new NBC News report.

The machines, made by Battelle Memorial Institute, clean N95 respiratory masks by disinfecting them with vapor phase hydrogen peroxide.

Battelle said N95 masks can be washed in their machines up to 20 times before they deteriorate. However, scientists and nurses said the masks ended up getting damaged after two or three washes, NBC News reported.

Nurses across the US also told NBC News that the masks often don’t fit correctly after several washes, and fear that they are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 after reusing them.

The Battelle CCDS Critical Care Decontamination System™ a

A video showing the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System that cleans N95 masks.

Battelle


At least 400 hospitals across California alone are already using the machines, state records show.

Healthcare workers in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Idaho, and Virginia also told NBC News they had used masks cleaned by Battelle washers.

The deal — the minimum cost of which to the government is $413 million — was announced by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency on April 13.

The DLA acted on behalf of the supply-chain arm of the White House coronavirus task force, NBC News said.

In the initial contract letter, the DLA said the “maximum dollar value” of the washing-machine deal was $600 million, NBC News reported.

trump honeywell mask

Donald Trump tours a Honeywell facility manufacturing protective masks in Phoenix, Arizona, on May 5, 2020.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner


However, the government may not meet that limit.

“To date, the value of the contract remains at $413 million,” Patrick Mackin, a DLA spokesman, told NBC News.

“The maximum value of the contract is $600 million in the event we need to make any adjustments in the support provided by Battelle during the period of performance.”

Battelle had lobbied the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vociferously to get a waiver, which means they could expand production and be free of government quality-assurance regulations.

Both President Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had publicly demanded the FDA make a concession to Battelle, which was granted on March 29.

FILE PHOTO: Dr. Nicole McCullough, a global health and safety expert at 3M, demonstrates the correct way to put on a N95 respiratory mask at a laboratory of 3M.  March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020  REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi/File Photo

Dr. Nicole McCullough, a health and safety expert at 3M, demonstrates the correct way to put on a N95 respiratory mask at a laboratory in Maplewood, Minnesota.

Reuters


The efficacy of the machines, officially called “Critical Care Decontamination Systems,” is, however, in doubt.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that the method used by Battelle in its mask-cleaning machines was only safe for three washes.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that N95 masks should be used once and “must only be used by a single wearer,” but noted that in times of low demand it can be acceptable to ruse them.

Battelle is a longtime partner of the US military and is most famous for its role developing uranium for the Manhattan Project, the mission to develop an atomic bomb during World War II.

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Read the full NBC News report here.

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