FEMA paid company $7M for test tubes, received plastic soda bottles

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid Fillakit — a small company formed in May that operates out of a Houston suburb — $7.3 million since May to supply it with test tubes for COVID-19 testing. Instead of receiving standard test tubes, FEMA received plastic tubes made for bottling soda, which state health officials say are unusable, ProPublica reported. 

The plastic tubes supplied by Fillakit are much cheaper than glass vials and can be sealed off with a soda bottle cap. When inflated with high-pressure air, they expand to the size of a 2-liter soda bottle, according to ProPublica

Health officials say the tubes don't fit into racks used in testing labs and that even if they were the right size, Fillakit's process of sending the tubes isn't sterile and could cause false test results. 

Fillakit was formed by a former telemarketer who repeatedly has been accused of fraud in the two decades, ProPublica reported. 

Fillakit has sold FEMA more than 3 million of the plastic tubes, and FEMA has sent them to all 50 states. 

Health officials in New York, New Jersey, Texas and New Mexico told ProPublica they can't use the tubes, and three other states said they've received the tubes but haven't distributed them to testing sites. In at least one state, Fillakit's plastic tubes contributed to delays in rolling out COVID-19 testing, according to ProPublica

Fillakit's owner, Paul Wexler, acknowledged to ProPublica that the plastic tubes are normally used for soda bottles but declined to otherwise comment. 

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