Fire retardant, mold test pallet industry
A recent decision by two U.S. producers and an importer to phase out a controversial fire retardant used in many plastic materials has the country's largest plastic pallet pool operator thinking of its next steps.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the chemical companies Albermarle, Chemtura and ICL Industrial Products have voluntarily committed to end production, importation, and sale of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) for most uses in the United States by Dec. 31, 2012, and to end all uses by the end of 2013.
'Studies have shown that DecaBDE persists in the environment, potentially causes cancer and may impact brain function,' said Steve Owens, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, in a statement.
Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS), which started operations in March 2006, has rapidly built one of the world's largest plastic pallet pools. The company's pallets are marketed to shippers as 30 percent lighter than their wooden counterparts, traceable through embedded radio frequency identification tags, and 100-percent recyclable. In addition, iGPS pallets contain DecaBDE to make them more resilient against fire.
While well aware of the forthcoming decision by the chemical companies, Bob Moore, iGPS chairman and chief executive officer, disputes the claims made by environmentalists and the wood pallet industry about DecaBDE.
'Extensive testing by independent laboratories has documented that the DecaBDE encapsulated in the resin of iGPS pallets does not migrate to packaging stored on iGPS pallets; nor does it migrate to food products within that packaging,' he said. 'Customers can continue to utilize iGPS pallets with complete confidence.'
DecaBDE is one of the world's most widely used flame retardants. It is used in consumer electronics, wiring, building materials and commercial furniture, textiles and carpeting. 'It is a highly effective flame retardant credited with saving thousands of lives,' Moore said.
However, the International Association of Fire Fighters and its associates have fought for years to get DecaBDE off the market, based on their concerns about human exposure to the chemical during fires.
The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association said plastic pallets containing DecaBDE 'represent a health hazard to all supply chain personnel and consumers who may come in contact with the pallets.'
iGPS pallets are now used by a number of large food product manufacturers and shippers, such as General Mills, PepsiCo/Gatorade/Tropicana, Cott Corp., and Imperial Sugar.
'These companies had toxicologists thoroughly study our pallets,' Moore said. 'They wouldn't put a multibillion brand like Kraft on our pallets if they weren't absolutely safe.'
Moore said iGPS's current pallet fleet, as well as pallets manufactured during the DecaBDE phase-out period, are unaffected, as existing products containing the chemical may continue to be used indefinitely. In addition, iGPS pallets containing DecaBDE may be recycled.
The political debate over DecaBDE continues to smolder at both the state and congressional levels. Maine, for example, has already banned the use of DecaBDE in household goods. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, recently introduced legislation (H.R. 4394) on Capitol Hill providing for a phased-out ban on DecaBDE and 'mixtures or products containing that chemical.'
Pingree said it's estimated that almost 100 million pounds of deca-bromine may be used in the manufacture of plastic pallets in the coming years. 'We need to make sure that the industry doesn't start using another chemical that is just as dangerous as Deca, so this bill has a provision to make sure that any alternative they come up with has to be safe,' she said.
Moore said he's been in touch with the fire retardant chemical manufacturers, who said they plan to have an alternative to DecaBDE available before the end of 2010.
Wood pallets have also come under attack recently for their potential health risks, namely the possibility of harboring harmful bacteria which could be passed through the food chain.
Johnson & Johnson has issued a voluntary recall of Tylenol Arthritis Pain Caplets due to reports of a moldy smell that has sickened some consumers.
According to news reports, the company recalled five lots last month after consumers complained of an 'unusual moldy, musty, or mildew-like odor' that caused nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
In a Dec. 18 release, J&J said the smell is caused by the presence of trace amounts of a chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, the source of which is believed to be the breakdown of a chemical used to treat wooden pallets that transport and store packaging materials. ' Chris Gillis