Cambridge, Ont. company has millions of masks in storage due to red tape
KITCHENER -- A Cambridge company that pivoted to create millions of masks during the pandemic now has millions of products in storage.
Steve Mai, CEO and president of Eclipse Innovations, said there's international interest in the products, but they're dealing with red tape and gaps in the supply chain closer to home.
"We have millions of products on the shelf ready to go," Mai said.
Those products include N95 masks, which are designed to filter at least 95 per cent of airborne particles.
"My phone is ringing off the hook," Mai said. "The disappointment is that the phone isn't ringing from any Canadian source."
Mai said he's been dealing with red tape for months. His N95 masks were temporarily certified by Health Canada, but that certification expires next month.
"Simply put, the certification that we have is not understood," he said.
He said N95 masks are typically certified by an organization in the U.S. However, his company is only a third of the way through that process for certification because of delays.
"I think we should have a body in Canada that looks into determining the standard, which is something that the Canadian Standards Association is forming," said Ravi Selvaganapathy, a professor at McMaster University and the director of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment.
Selvaganapathy said as demand increased for masks during the pandemic, organizations had a harder time getting testing and certification for their products.
"During the summer of , a lot of organizations in the U.S. that were doing certifications actually shut to international testing," he said. "That was one of the crises that we went through in Canada. But, I think there's been a number of organizations within Canada that have been created to do a lot of these tests."
He added there's been a lack of testing facilities in Canada, meaning testing needed to be done in the U.S.
"When you see this roadblock for the health-care workers and first responders, the questions is why isn't the federal government or provincial government assisting with removing this roadblock," Mai said.
Michael Hurley, the president the CUPE Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, said 18,600 health-care workers have caught COVID-19 while working in the pandemic, and 20 have died.
"So, the question of whether the masks meet the standards is a critical piece here," he said.
The Ontario government committed $1.4 million to help ramp up production at the Cambridge facility in July.
"At the end of the day, it's not a question of whether our product is going to sell, it's who we sell to and why we created," Mai said.
Staff said the facility could produce 50 million N95 masks a year.
"Bridge that gap," Mai said. "Otherwise it's going to be too late, what's available will be sold."
Health Canada wasn't able to comment before 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade said it's important to be able to secure the necessary personal protective equipment needed in the province's COVID-19 response, and that bolstering domestic manufacturing of PPE is a key step.