Calif officials squirm after millions worth of PPE found rotting in the rain outside Bay Area event center

If you have been having trouble finding PPE in the San Mateo, California area, you might want to check the parking lots at your local county facilities.

Investigative reporter Dan Noyes of ABC7 in San Francisco reported last week on a scandal involving over $10 million dollars of personal protective equipment left outside in the elements at a Bay Area event facility since September 2021.

The PPE found outside the San Mateo County Event Center included masks, gowns, face shields, coveralls, and goggles. Noyes filmed his trip to see the extent of the damage; from the ground, stacks of boxes — many from China — tower above him. Thousands of boxes containing all sorts of brand new PPE soaking in the rain; stacks of boxes collapsing, some breaking open and spilling their contents.

More strikingly, an aerial view really illustrated the extent of the problem: pallet after pallet, row upon row, more than 20,000 square feet of boxes.


(Video: ABC7)

During his rain-soaked visit to the event center lot, Noyes spoke with the facility CEO, Dana Stoehr, who had been alerted to his presence by security. She told him — while wearing a mask alone inside her car — that the boxes had been moved outside in September because of space constraints inside during a convention being held the last weekend of the month.

When asked about the potential for waste and her responsibility to protect items that had been entrusted to her for safekeeping, she was defensive, claiming, “I understand, but it’s not going to waste. It’s damaged. It was damaged.”

“It was damaged or it’s being damaged now?” Noyes pressed.

“It was damaged in a previous storm,” Stoehr insisted. “It was fully taken care of exactly the way it should have been.”

San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, however, stepped up to take the blame.

“It’s because of your investigation, because of your investigation, that we have to acknowledge that we made a mistake,” he admitted. “And the public needs to know that a mistake was made.”

In trying to determine the approximate financial loss to San Mateo county residents, Noyes spoke with San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy. He, too, was unaware of the situation until ABC7 reached out to him; he says he ultimately shoulders the blame: “It clearly is a mistake by the county and ultimately, I’m responsible for the county. So, you know, I take full responsibility for it. … We are taking precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Although Callagy could not place a dollar figure on the discarded equipment while speaking with Noyes, he conceded that it was certainly over $1 million dollars. Noyes later had a source confirm to him that the actual value was over $10 million dollars.

Noyes also reported last week that a source told him that a “convoy of garbage trucks picked up a bunch of brand new PPE and took it to the dump in the past two months, [which is] a massive waste of your tax dollars that the county promises won’t happen again.”

As a follow-up to his initial conversation with ABC7, Callagy told the station that he is hiring an independent investigator and has called in the local veterans’ advocacy group, Wine Country Marines, to assist with inspecting the recovered equipment to determine how much can be salvaged.


(Video: ABC7)

“Every single piece is being inspected and right now,” said James Brown of the Wine Country Marines. “We’re running over 90% that we’re finding is still in good, perfect condition.”

Brown is organizing a distribution of the PPE that can be salvaged. He said the rain damaged the exterior boxes, but the plastic bags inside saved many of the items. He added that his group will be giving it all away to qualified recipients on January 25th.

Brown said they will distribute it carefully. “We don’t want anybody to take this and put it on eBay because that’s in essence money laundering, you’re taking federal taxpayer dollar purchased productions and you’re turning it into cash for you,” he cautioned. “We’re not going to allow that.”

Commenters on Twitter were understandably irate upon learning of the debacle:

 

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