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Letter from Ed: iGPS Sues NWPCA – The Tension Between Wooden Pallets and Plastic Pallets Intensifies
Dr. Ed Brindley shares his thoughts on the increasing tensions between wooden and plastic pallet interests over the issue of food safety and contamination.
By Dr. Edward C. Brindley, Jr., Ph.D. Publisher
Date Posted: 2/1/2011
For years people have debated the differences between wooden and plastic pallets. But the rivalry appears to be going beyond friendly competition. Activities seem to be accelerating from a skirmish to a battle and now maybe a war.
Alleging unfair competition, business disparagement, defamation and harm to its business, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems) sued the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) and Bruce Scholnick, president and CEO of the association. This lawsuit claims that the NWPCA and its leadership have made “false, malicious and defamatory statements suggesting that iGPS pallets may be the cause of recent butter contamination in the Dallas area.”
This controversy has arisen from a study conducted by the University of Texas School of Public Health, which studied the amount of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that are inadvertently consumed in food. The study discovered butter that had been contaminated with high levels of decabromodiphenyl ether or deca-bromine (decaBDE), a chemical flame retardant used in a variety of products including the second generation pallet design used by iGPS.
Although the source of the contamination in the butter has not been determined, because of the high levels of deca-bromine in iGPS pallets, the NWPCA urged that these pallets be examined as a potential source of the contamination. In a press release, Bruce Scholnick stated, “I’m not saying that plastic pallets are the source of the chemical contaminants in butter, but I am encouraging further testing of food that is transported on these pallets.”
Bruce explained how pallets are roughly handled in warehouses and materials handling conditions. They are scraped across floors, gouged by forklifts and dropped from the backs of trucks onto loading docks. With this kind of handling, plastic pallets can end up with fine layers of dust, which might contain decaBDE.
The pallet association and iGPS have exchanged barbs several times recently. iGPS wasted no time by countering in a letter to customers. Bob Moore, president of iGPS, stated, “iGPS pallets are not involved in this matter in any way, and the NWPCA’s veiled suggestion that they are is just one more dishonest and reckless statement from the leadership of any organization that is desperate to hinder competition and innovation in the pallet industry.” The truth is that the association’s letter did not suggest that iGPS pallets were involved, only that the potential should be investigated.
Talking about the pot calling the kettle black, iGPS has established a practice of seriously stretching the truth. The publisher of the Pallet Enterprise, Chaille Brindley, looked into its lawsuit and he found that some of its statements did not hold up well when scrutinized. iGPS pointed out that at the time of the study none of its customers shipped butter on iGPS pallets. In a letter to its customers, iGPS further stated “the manufacturer of the butter in question is not a customer of iGPS and that the products were shipped on wood pallets, not iGPS pallets.”
Chaille contacted Dr. Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas, the lead researcher in the study. He stated that they had not disclosed either the identity of the retailer or the brand of butter. The study involved the acquisition of various food products at retail locations long after the products were loaded off pallets. It seems highly unlikely that anybody would know what kind of pallet was used. Given the complexity of logistics and the fact that pooled pallets are incidentally used by non-customers, it is just about impossible to know what kind of pallet was used.
In its lawsuit, iGPS stated that the NWPCA has “conspired to tortuously attempt to drive iGPS out of business…The NWPCA has resorted to false and misleading statements and unfair competition designed solely to frighten away the public and injure or destroy iGPS’s prospective business relationships.”
Readers can go to the NWPCA Website and see the news releases that led iGPS to file its lawsuit. The fact is that NWPCA merely suggested a possible logical connection between iGPS plastic pallets and the high levels of deca-bromine found in some retail food products. Then iGPS reacted with a lawsuit that some in the wooden pallet industry have called “baseless.” It’s kind of odd that this uproar has erupted. Dr. Schecter told the Pallet Enterprise that he did not even consider pallets as a focus when conducting his study.
The iGPS lawsuit challenged a number of facts presented by the NWPCA about the amount of decaBDE used by iGPS as well as the assertion that the chemical can leach out of the iGPS pallet. No matter how one interprets the facts, iGPS is using millions of pounds of the controversial flame retardant.
iGPS claims that the chemical is encapsulated in its pallet and will not leach out. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated, “PBDEs are not chemically bound to plastics, foam, fabrics, or other products in which they are used, making them more likely to leach out of these products. Despite the United States having phased out the manufacture and import of penta- and octaBDE in 2004, their component congeners are being detected in humans and the environment.”
Just when you thought tensions couldn’t get any worse, iGPS called on the U.S. Department of Justice and the Florida Attorney General’s office to look into deceptive and disruptive trade practices used by the wooden pallet industry. iGPS launched this latest attack after the NWPCA highlighted concerns raised by U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd about deca-bromine in pallets. Dodd encouraged the Food & Drug Administration to use its expanded authority in regulating hazardous substances that can come in contact with food products.
Kudos to the NWPCA for stepping up to defend the wooden pallet industry. Bruce Scholnick has done an admirable job against a tireless opponent. And kudos to iGPS for developing a platform that has pushed everyone to re-examine business as usual. Both wood and plastic have their place. Competition is a good thing. Making up a phantom crisis is not.
Which is the real crisis? You be the judge. I personally think there is a lot more real evidence of a problem with the deca-bromine issue although even that has been overblown. The biggest problems remain the fact that most users don’t understand that pallets are a lot more critical aspect of their logistical operation than they care to believe. Making up a crisis just to win market share may go a long way in driving even more people to look at our industry as a nuisance instead of an answer to their problems.