manufacturers that rushed to produce face masks over the past year are now stuck with hundreds of millions of unsold face coverings because China is flooding the market with below-cost masks, and most may not survive the end of the pandemic.
That's the thrust of a letter to President Joe Biden released Tuesday by a trade group representing 26 small manufacturers that set up production of the badly needed safety items as the health crisis took hold last year.
The manufacturers said over half their production would be forced offline in 60 days if they don't get immediate federal aid, costing thousands of jobs.
The group said they have capacity to produce 3.7 billion surgical masks and more than 1 billion of the higher-protection N95 masks a year - and are now sitting on stockpiles of 260 million surgical masks in their warehouses that they are struggling to sell.
The trade group said while there are 3 to 6 cents in raw material in every surgical mask, imported Chinese surgical masks now sell for an average of 1 cent each.
"If this remains unchanged, 54% of our production will go offline in 60 days and 84.6% in less than a year," the group said in the letter.
"The idea that everyone expressed during the crisis - that we need to avoid (PPE shortages) ever happening again - hasn't changed profit-driven institutions," said James Wyner, chief executive of Shawmut Corp., a West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, maker of engineered materials that expanded into mask production during the crisis.
Adam Albrecht, senior quality control manager at Indiana Face Mask, another small producer, said when the firm first started producing the higher-filtration N95 masks last year, "People came out of the woodwork, saying: 'We can sell this, we can sell this.' But it seems no matter how much we adjust prices down, the Chinese stay just below.".
Dan Izhaky, who together with a partner has invested $4 million in a new mask factory outside Los Angeles, said the challenge is greater for makers of surgical masks, the ubiquitous safety masks that are relatively easy to make.
The mask trade group - which doesn't include industry giants such as 3M Co.