BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – Mayor Randall Woodfin has pledged to “never” do business with Metron Marketing and Distribution after he said it “swindled” the City of Birmingham.
In March, the City of Birmingham purchased 75,000 surgical masks and 100,000 N-95 respirator masks from Metron Marketing and Distribution Inc., based in Yorba Linda, California.
The surgical masks were intended for city employees and the N-95 masks were ordered for first responders.
According to the purchase order, the “key detailed description” of the N-95 masks “shall be NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) N95 approved with exhalation valve 10 or 20/BX or fully equal.” The price for each mask was $3.65 for a total of $365,000. The total cost for the surgical masks were $56,250.
The surgical masks were delivered to the city on April 18 and are as ordered, according to Carmen Jones, Purchasing Agent, City of Birmingham. The second shipment came 10 days later but instead of providing N95 masks, Jones said Metron Marketing and Distribution sent KN95 masks.
KN95 masks are manufactured in China and in March, the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization (EAU) for masks meeting NIOSH standards, however, in mid-May, several companies lost authorization for failing to meeting a minimum particulate filtration efficiency during testing.
Metron Marketing and Distribution sent “KN95 (PM 2.5) Protective Masks” manufactured by Chengde Technology Co. to the City of Birmingham. According to the FDA, that product is no longer authorized. UPDATE: As of May 22, 2020, the FDA added the masks back to its authorization list after verifying the masks meet certain criterion.
“All PPEs are hard to come by, so when this vendor presented their pricing and also we established an ETA that was suitable to meet our needs, that’s how we ended up going with them,” said Jones.
Jones said Metron Marketing and Distribution required half of the payment upfront. While not normal practice, Jones said, “since the pandemic, every vendor we reached out to, this was their requirement.”
Jones said after receiving the wrong masks, she contacted the company to try to correct the order.
“At first they were cooperative, they were willing to negotiate but at the end they said, ‘No.’ They wanted to let us keep what we got.” And, Jones said the company demanded the remaining balance of the purchase order.
Mayor Randall Woodfin said communications with Metron Marketing and Distribution have deteriorated and the company owes the city $161,825.
“I will be talking to legal and the finance department on what should we be exercising to make sure we make the taxpayer whole,” said Mayor Woodfin.
This is the first business dealing between the City of Birmingham and Metron Marketing and Distribution and according to Mayor Woodfin, it’s the last.
“We are a victim of a situation that doesn’t feel right. And if a vendor wants to make good on their character and their name, make your customer whole period,” said Mayor Woodfin.
Jones said Metron Marketing and Distribution contacted her through email. She said the person she spoke with told her the company had supplied PPEs to the White House.
According to Metron Marketing and Distribution’s website, “Metron has a 15 year history of providing domestic and international customers with the best prices and on time delivery of medical equipment and supplies. Metron's staff and team now the ins and outs of international shipping. Even in the most difficult business environments, Metron gets the goods to its customers.”
The “About Metron” and “Resources” section of the website has several grammatical and spelling errors. The email address listed does not appear to work and the phone number provided goes straight to a generic voicemail when called.
The website lists clients as, “State of Michigan, Kaiser Permanente of California, AccentCare, City of Birmingham, City of Montgomery, Suffolk County New York, West Africa: National Hospital Abuja, State and Local Government Teaching Hospital Nigeria, Nisa Premier Hospital Abuja, Garki Hospital Abuja, Abuja Clinic and Wellington Clinics Limited.”
WBRC FOX6 reached out the City of Montgomery to see how its dealings with the company were and was told by a spokesman there is no record of any contact with Metron Marketing and Distribution. A spokesman for Kaiser Permanente of California told WBRC FOX6 in an email, “I’m not sure how we wound up on this company’s list of clients. I spoke to our supply chain folks and we have no record of ever having done business with a vendor by that name…”
Richard Rice, an attorney representing Metron Marketing and Distribution, responded to a WBRC FOX6 email for comment on Tuesday, however it was stuck in our spam folder and not received until Thursday evening.
Rice said he disagrees with Mayor Woodfin’s suggesting the company “swindled” the city.