Someone says they have 2 million N95 masks for sale. The asking price is six times the usual cost.

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In normal times, an N95 face mask would cost a big corporation a buck or less — particularly if it ordered a million of them.

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But these aren’t normal times, and the pitch from industrial supplier Hatfield and Co. to sell as many as 2 million masks to a major U.S. oil company last week wasn’t your typical offer. The Texas-based supplier wanted $6.3 million for a minimum order of 1 million masks, with an option of buying 2 million for nearly $13 million, sales documents and interviews indicate.

At a time when the new coronavirus is rapidly spreading across the country and health care professionals are desperate for these face masks — which filter out at least 95% of airborne particles — to protect sick people and themselves, critics say a price like that smacks of profiteering and price gouging by someone in the supply chain.

“You’re not just marking it up like 50 cents. This is highway robbery,” said an industry salesperson familiar with Hatfield and Co.’s pitch, who is not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity. “It’s just disgusting to me.”

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Hatfield and Co. said it did not mark up the product excessively or engage in price gouging, telling The Texas Tribune that its own supplier set the “terms and conditions” for the sale. The company declined to identify the supplier or quantify how much it stood to profit, citing its contractual agreements.

Brad Lindeman, the Beaumont-based Hatfield and Co. salesman listed as the contact for the proposed sale, said in a brief telephone interview Sunday that the company had access to an undisclosed quantity of the N95 masks that are stored in warehouses all over Texas and other states.

“There are some in Houston, Dallas, Florida and you know, I guess you would say spread out all over,” Lindeman said. “The inventories are constantly moving, so it’s kind of hard to explain exactly what the quantities are.”

Lindeman said a “group of doctors” has the masks but did not elaborate. He cut off an interview with a Tribune reporter after a couple of minutes and declined further comment.

On Monday morning, Hatfield’s president and chief operating officer, Scott Beeman, said the masks were provided by a reseller the company had not worked with before. He added that the reseller imposed a minimum order size of 1 million masks and that its costs were reflected in Hatfield and Co.’s quotation to the oil company.

 

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