Customs seizes 500,000 faulty N95 masks in Chicago en route from China to New Jersey

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized 500,000 faulty N95 masks headed to New Jersey from Schenzhen, China, after they were found to be less than 95% effective.

The seizure, worth an estimated $3 million, was made in Chicago last week when Homeland Security asked the CBP’s Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team in the Windy City to apprehend and inspect the shipment, CBP said in a statement.

Thirty of the masks were inspected at a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facility, which found that 10% of the respirators tested had a filter efficiency rating below 95%, CBP said in a statement last Thursday.

While the suggested retail price was just under $500,000, the potential retail sales value was more like $3 million due to demand, CBP said.

Despite a push for more personal protective equipment, there is still a shortage of the highly refined N-95 masks in the U.S. “due to pressures on the medical supply chain,” the Associated Press noted.

N-95 masks are designed to make a seal while fitting closely on someone’s face so as to better filter airborne particles, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This is leading “certain organizations” to attempt to “exploit the limited supply of and increased demand for some pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment and other medical goods required to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” CBP said in a statement. “Among other products, these criminals are smuggling and selling counterfeit safety equipment, unapproved COVID-19 test kits, unproven medicines and substandard hygiene products through the online marketplace.”

CBP is homing in on potentially counterfeit or illicit goods by targeting shipments that look suspicious and appear to contain “false or misleading claims, lack required warnings or lack proper approvals,” the agency said.

“Our CBP officers working with partners in HSI were able to stop these faulty mask from being sold under the guise of fully protecting Americans,” the area port director in Chicago, Shane Campbell, said in a statement. “These masks did not meet the safety standards outlined by the CDC, which puts the public at risk, jeopardizing the health and well-being of everyone.”

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