China has started an investigation into the delivery of 300 substandard quilts padded with "black heart cotton," a Chinese-style wording for used and hazardous cotton, to quake-stricken Sichuan Province.
The case started when a hospital in Jiangyou, Sichuan, found that 300 quilts donated by a company in Baoji, Shaanxi Province, were of poor quality and reported it to authorities.
An initial investigation shows the company purchased the quilts on May 17 from a local shop without knowing the quality. The shop owner, however, sold the quilts normally used in cold storage at the prices of quilts for human use, Wang Kuangxing, the Baoji Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision director, told Xinhua on Friday.
The Liyang Labor Protection Products shop did not have enough quilts in stock when the company placed the order. Owner Li Yang then sought the quilts from four local workshops, Wang said.
"The padding is cotton used in industrial plants that pose great danger to human health. Definitely they are 'black heart cotton'," the official said.
Li Ming, a local farmer who runs one of the workshops, told Xinhua he sold 30 quilts to Li Yang at 16 yuan (2.3 U.S. dollars) each.
"I would not sell them if I had known that they were being sent to help people living in the disaster zones, no matter how much LiYang offers," said Li, adding the quilts were for use in cold storage only.
Baoji authorities started an investigation into the quilts as soon as they were sent back on May 18. The workshops were sealed off on the same night.
The Baoji quality watchdog has handed over the case to local police, which means Li Yang could face a penal punishment besides fines.
Relief materials, both domestic and foreign, have been pouring into Sichuan following the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12.
Zhi Shuping, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ) deputy director, said companies involved in the quality scandal would face fines, factory closures and criminal liabilities according to the law and the severity of the violation.
According to a regulation issued last year, companies having severe quality problems would be imposed fines that are 10 times their profits and some would go bankrupt.
The central government promised strict supervision of relief supplies and severe penalties for misappropriation after the media reported tents for quake victims, the most urgently needed supplies, had inexplicably popped up in luxury homes in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.
With an unprecedented amount of donations pouring into the quake-hit regions, the public doubted whether their donations would be delivered to quake victims.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) promised to promptly, effectively and transparently handle donations and other relief supplies to quake-stricken regions.
The death toll in the earthquake increased by about 340 to 68,858 overnight as of Friday noon, the Information Office of the State Council said. Another 366,586 were counted as injured and 18,618 listed as missing.