Wood and plastic pallet makers tussle over safety, environmental friendliness

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - March/April 2011

Latest J&J McNeil recall again implicates wood pallets

For the past year, a wood-pallet trade association has been swinging aggressively at one of the leading providers of plastic pallets using in pharma shpping (among other industries): iGPS, of Orlando, FL. iGPS is the largest US “pooling” company for plastic pallets, meaning that it provides a return service for pallets after a shipment is completed. The company includes RFID tags on its pallets to help track them, and either has its own facilities for pooling, or works with other logistics companies. The trade association, the National Wood Pallet and Container Assn. (NWPCA; Alexandria, VA), claims that IGPS’ pallets contain significant amounts of a flame retardant, decabromodiphenyl ether (“DECA”), that represents a contamination hazard for shipments.

The controversy really heated up after the contamination problems at J&J’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare surfaced in late 2009. J&J found that the musty odor of Tylenol and other OTC products leading to consumer complaints and adverse events could be traced to tribromoanisole (TBA) and trichloroanisole (TCA), which are breakdown products of phenols used to as wood fungicides. Although it never directly implicated wood pallets in the recalls, the company has stated that the chemicals are “applied to wood that is used to build pallets.” In late March—following a year of repeated recalls of J&J products—McNeil announced yet another recall of Tylenol containers, again implicating the wood fungicides.

In December, iGPS sued NWPCA in Texas, claiming defamation and business disparagement; NWPCA has started a legal defense fund, asking its members if NWCPA should “slink on its belly and beg iGPS to drop its lawsuit?” Robert Moore, president of iGPS, confirmed to Pharmaceutical Commerce that iGPS pallets contain DECA, but notes that the compound is embedded in its high-density polyethylene construction; plastics do not readily leach the compound, at least certainly not the way a porous, organic material like wood can both absorb and release water or chemicals. “All pallets used in pharma service are returned to our facility for washing and reconditioning, and are bagged before being sent out again,” he says.

In truth, iGPS’ business isn’t a product (pallets), but a transportation system; the wood-pallet industry also reuses pallets, but without direct tracking of them. While the plastic pallets are more expensive on a unit basis, iGPS’s system provides quality, sustainability and cost efficiency that is apparently taking business away from wool pallet providers. See you in court!

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