Instead of COVID testing supplies, FEMA sent WA tiny soda bottles

WASHINGTON — FEMA sent the Washington State Department of Health nearly 300,000 plastic tubes. They thought they were getting test tubes for COVID-19 testing, but instead, they received tiny plastic preforms that can be made into 2-liter soda bottles.

The plastic containers are made by Fillakit, a Houston area company, which was founded six days before landing the federal contract, according to ProPublica.

ProPublica says the Trump administration has paid Fillakit 7.3 Million dollars for test tubes since May.

“What I observed was a pretty empty, large garage with a bunch of plastic bins, the kind you can get at Walmart. And these tiny little preforms that become soda bottles kind of stacked up there in the open air,” described J. David McSwane, a reporter with ProPublica. He went to the business on June 10 and said some workers had masks, some didn’t, and they were using snow shovels to load the vials into plastic bins.

McSwane talked to former employees who questioned the unsanitary work conditions for supplying COVID-19 testing supplies to FEMA.

He says the owner of the company was not happy to see him.

“He came out and was pretty furiously yelling at me because he was pretty upset I’d seen what they were doing,” said McSwane.

And it’s not just the contamination risk. Health departments say the vials don’t work. They’re the wrong size and don’t fit in the containers and machines used in labs. There’s a standard size for vials and test tubes, and these are odd-shaped.

KIRO-7 found out that FEMA sent the Washington State Department of Health nearly 300,000 of the vials in two shipments. The Department of Health told us they were unlabeled, unusually packaged and unusable.

ProPublica says the vials from Fillakit have been shipped to all 50 states.

Near Houston, McSwane watched workers load up an Enterprise rental truck with bins of vials. The FDA requires climate control for testing supplies — McSwane says this was a regular truck.

“These aren’t viable test tubes. It was never going to work and someone should have seen it,” said McSwane.

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