Wal-Mart Latest to Implement Ban on PBDE Flame Retardant
Question remains: Will more retailers refuse to accept any food shipments on plastic pallets containing large quantities of the controversial flame retardant?
The Washington Post reports that Wal-Mart is joining a growing list of companies, states, and international governments working to ban the use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a chemical fire retardant the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies as a “possible human carcinogen…,” which is used in numerous consumer and commercial products.
Wal-Mart’s PBDE ban applies to consumer goods, and as such is a good first step. However stores, like Wal-Mart, that sell food should also reconsider policies still allowing delivery of produce and grocery items on plastic pallets containing large levels of that same flame retardant.
For example, Intelligent Global Pooling System (iGPS) is the largest plastic pallet rental company in the U.S. Most of its customers are food producers and grocery manufacturers.
According to its own Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) conducted by Environmental Resources Management, each new iGPS pallet contains 3.4 lbs of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE).
Whole Foods in a letter to its vendors in August 2009 said it would “not accept product on plastic pallets,” and that “product shipped on plastic pallets will be rejected.” To our knowledge no other food retailer has followed suit yet.
The mounting laws and regulations banning decaBDE may cause suppliers and retailers to revisit the use of plastic pallets containing this chemical, particularly those selling vulnerable consumer goods like food and pharmaceuticals.
- Maine passed a law in 2007 banning decaBDE in household goods. In 2010 it broadened this law to cover shipping pallets. The ban on plastic pallets begins January 1, 2012.
- Maryland passed a law last year banning decaBDE for all products. The ban on some products begins immediately; the ban on plastic pallets begins after December 31, 2013.
- On the other hand, Oregon has banned decaBDE use for all purposes effective January 1, 2011. The law makes clear that “it is unlawful for any person to: 1) introduce into commerce; or 2) deliver for introduction into commerce in Oregon any product containing more than 0.10% by mass of” decaBDE.
California Watch reports iGPS is seeking an exemption from the law. In a statement to the publication iGPS said: “While the attempt to single out plastic shipping pallets now – years after the statute was enacted – is questionable, we are confident that both the underlying statute and any follow-on rule making will not affect iGPS operations....”
- Vermont has banned decaBDE in mattresses, mattress pads, upholstered furniture, televisions and computers.
- Washington has also banned decaBDE in mattresses, upholstered furniture, televisions and computers.
The United States is not alone in its concerns about decaBDE. In April 2008, the European Union banned decaBDE from use in electrical and electronic equipment.
There is growing momentum for “field-to-fork” safety policies in the U.S. Shortly before he retired, Senator Christopher Dodd, co-author of the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, urged the FDA to work to ensure that decaBDE in plastic shipping pallets did not enter the food supply.
Dodd’s letter in part stated that “DecaBDE is known to leach out of plastic, and the EPA is concerned about the possible negative health and environmental impact resulting from exposure to the chemical.” Senator Dodd recommended FDA “issue notification to food manufacturers, transporters and retailers…that plastic pallets containing decaBDE are inappropriate for use in scenarios that may bring decabromine into contact with food.”
The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) applauds the actions of Wal-Mart to ban decaBDE from its consumer product shelves, but we would encourage all retailers to review and analyze policies relating to the plastic pallets transporting the goods – particularly food products.
The solid wood packaging industry is working proactively in the field-to-fork safety effort by contributing best handling guidelines for wood pallets and containers used in the food industry. In August, we provided preliminary suggestions to FDA; because they were well received, NWPCA formed a blue-ribbon task group to refine our safe handling recommendations. NWPCA will distribute these guidelines to FDA and to our members for use by their food-industry customers.
Wood is a natural product used not only to transport produce and groceries, but as an actual component of some food products like ice cream bars, popsicles, lollipops, coffee stir sticks, corn dogs and the like. Wood pallets are the benchmark for fire safety and do not require chemical flame retardants.
Click here to read article in The Washington Post
Source content: National Wooden Pallet & Container Association