Document Swap: Didn't Fix the Problem, Fixed the Numbers

Apr 11, 2011, 09:37 ET from National Wooden Pallet and Container Association

iGPS makes unexplained changes to published chemical amounts – numbers relevant in lawsuit

ALEXANDRIA, Va., April 11, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the ongoing public policy debate on the use of the controversial flame retardant decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) has chosen to quietly lower the amount of that chemical – not in its millions of pallets, but in its data chart. Doing so in the midst of a lawsuit based on numbers iGPS has promoted for nearly three years in its own life cycle analysis (LCA) on its own website not only weakens iGPS' position in court, it raises questions about the dependability of the reports on which iGPS relies.  

"Since August 2008, iGPS has promoted a life cycle analysis on its website listing the amount of decaBDE in each new pallet at 3.4 lbs.," said Bruce Scholnick, President and CEO of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (both Scholnick and the association are targets of a lawsuit filed by iGPS in December 2010).  "For more than two years, environmental groups, members of Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state governments, fire officials and others have voiced concerns over the potential risks surrounding the use of decaBDE in consumer goods and plastic pallets. When our trade association joined the public debate pointing out the amount of decaBDE in the iGPS pallets, using iGPS' own numbers from its LCA featured on its website, the company filed a lawsuit against the association and me personally and has since changed the numbers in the report."

Background: On August 4, 2008, iGPS issued a press release providing a link on its website to a summary report of the LCA conducted by Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM).  The posted LCA listed the amount of decaBDE in each new pallet at 3.4 lbs.  Recently, iGPS surreptitiously posted a changed LCA with different data – specifically the new report claims the pallets have less than half that amount, only 1.5 lbs. of flame retardant.

Both LCAs are dated July 2008 on each internal page.  Both are labeled as a product of the research company ERM. The reports have slightly different titles, cover dates, and numbers of pages, but what is relevant in this issue is the conflicting data with regard to the amount of decaBDE in each new pallet.

  • LCA Posted on iGPS Website Aug. 2008: Table 2.1 Pallet Systems in this Study (page 5).  "Fire Retardant – lbs (kg) 3.4 (1.5)."
  • LCA Posted on iGPS Website 2011: Table 2.3 Pallet Systems in this Study: Baseline Scenarios (page 7) lists "Fire Retardant – lbs (kg) 1.5 (0.68).

In December, iGPS sued NWPCA and its President/CEO Bruce Scholnick over a NWPCA press release issued a few days earlier, contending that  "…NWPCA states in the [news] release that each of (iGPS') pallets contain 3.4 lbs. of decabromodiphenyl ether. This is a false statement."  Of course, NWPCA's statement that iGPS' pallets contained 3.4 pounds of decaBDE came from the LCA then posted on iGPS' own website, so there is no basis for iGPS' claim that NWPCA lied.  

Shortly after NWPCA filed papers with the court explaining that the source of the data was iGPS itself, the replacement LCA appeared on the iGPS website without fanfare.  

iGPS will certainly have to account in court for this change.  However, the questions raised by this switch should be addressed immediately and publicly.  

  • Where was the newly-posted LCA document until recently?  
  • What explains the differences in the two documents purportedly created within days of each other in July 2008?
  • In April 2009, NWPCA issued a news release headlined From Fire Hazard to Toxic Platform which said among other things "According to a lifecycle analysis by Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) who purchases its pallets from Schoeller Arca System, its deca-bromine infused plastic pallets contain as much as 3.4 pounds of the chemical; that volume is necessary for the company to advertise its pallets as equivalent to wood pallets which are the benchmark for pallet fire safety."

If the number was wrong, why didn't iGPS say so then? Why did iGPS continue to post the LCA listing 3.4 lbs of decaBDE in its pallets for more than a year?

  • In June 2009, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration "writing to request an immediate halt to the use by the food industry of plastic pallets made with the neurotoxic flame retardant decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca)… Millions of plastic pallets, each containing 3.4 pounds of Deca …"

In that letter, EWG listed iGPS as the company using the flame retardant saying "There are an estimated 4 million Deca-treated plastic pallets in use today, with a significant portion used in the food industry. In September 2008, iGPS, a major plastic pallet shipping company, announced an agreement with Netherlands-based Schoeller Arca Systems to buy 30 million Deca treated plastic pallets over the next five years."

Why did iGPS fail to refute EWG's statement of 3.4 lbs of decaBDE?

  • In August 2009, EWG distributed a letter to all of the major supermarkets in the U.S. urging them to "suspend the use of plastic food storage racks that contain the toxic flame retardant chemical and neurotoxin commonly called Deca (decabromodiphenyl)." Again, EWG listed the figure 3.4 lbs of decaBDE.

Two days later, an iGPS attorney stated that "iGPS pallets do not contain 3.4 lbs of decabromine as EWG alleges. They contain less than half that amount, encapsulated in their resin, which is non-porous."  

Having made that public statement in August 2009, why did iGPS again continue to post on its website for the LCA listing 3.4 lbs of decaBDE ?

And, if iGPS pallets truly contained "less than half" the amount of decaBDE that the public believed they contained, why didn't iGPS tout this on its website?    

Here's another troublesome conflicting data point. The original LCA reflects 47.5 pounds of total pallet weight.  The revised report reflects the same total pallet weight even though the replacement LCA has reduced the amount of Deca to 1.5 pounds.  Does this altered data provide comfort to those concerned with fire safety and food safety?

Where is Environmental Resources Management in all of this?

Clearly, the definitive ability to end the confusion is in the hands of Schoeller Arca Systems, Inc., the company that manufactured the pallets for the iGPS rental pool.  Certainly, Schoeller Arca can tell the world the "recipe" for these pallets.

Will the trade press and consumer media ask these important public policy questions?  To date, some reporters have been more interested in writing stories with clever war metaphors and pallet puns than analyzing the substance of the issue.  NWPCA believes this decaBDE in pallets is a serious concern as evidenced by the fact that decaBDE has been banned for use in plastic pallets in Maine, Maryland and Oregon, and decaBDE has been banned in many other products throughout the world.  In states where they are not banned, these chemically-treated pallets will continue to transport food to neighborhood grocery stores across America.

"The lawsuit against us is a free speech issue," said Scholnick.  "When we raised the issue, iGPS filed a lawsuit to try to shut us up, but we will not be silenced.  The question to iGPS is: 'Just exactly how much decaBDE is in your pallets?'  The question to legislators and regulators charged with protecting pallet users and consumers remains: Is any decaBDE in plastic pallets too much?"  

Contact: Bruce Scholnick, President and CEO, 703-519-6104

National Wooden Pallet and Container Association

SOURCE National Wooden Pallet and Container Association