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Correspondent Roger Renstrom reported these news items from the Western Section Conference of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., held May 15-17 in Coronado, Calif.

Processors using deregulated power

Deregulation of electricity is spreading in the one-time manner of unshackled airlines and telecommunications. The driver: lower power rates.

At least 11 California plastics firms have selected electricity broker New Energy Ventures Inc. as their supplier, effective Jan. 1, 1998, according to Andrew Singer, an account manager for the Los Angeles-based aggregated buying group.

Singer gave a briefing at SPI West on the issues of electric deregulation. California regulators approved the deregulation concept in December 1995, and legislators acted in August to authorize unbundling the generating portion of electric service costs.

SPI's Western Regional Office in Irvine, Calif., has arranged for members to join New Energy without up-front costs for three years with the ability to switch at any time after six months. Singer said New Energy projects annual buying power of $2 billion by Jan. 1.

In a February letter to members, SPI western regional manager Frank Capolupo said SPI is playing ``a proactive role in helping our members gain the benefit of major buying power to help save money otherwise spent on high electricity bills.''

User tariffs as of June 10 will remain in effect through March 2002. Singer said those signing by July 1 will transfer to New Energy Jan. 1.

Singer said signees from the California plastics industry include Master Plastics Inc. of Vacaville; Superior Mold Co. of Ontario; Jatco Inc. of Union City; Microdyne Plastics Inc. of Ontario; U.S. Foam Inc. of Compton; Advanced Foam Inc. of Gardena; Agri-Cel Inc. of Delano; Brevet Industries of Irvine; NDC Systems of Irwindale; R&S Manufacturing & Supply Inc. of Paramount; and Perrin Manufacturing Co. of City of Industry.

To capture deregulation business in other states, New Energy Ventures is opening offices this year in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Dallas.

Several organizations release styrene news

The Styrene Information and Research Center has noted some negative health effects on mice in preliminary data from research studying the impacts of large doses — from 20 to 160 parts per million — of styrene monomer.

``We don't know what the effects in mice may mean as we haven't seen these effects in humans or rat studies we've done,'' said SIRC Executive Director Betsy Shirley. ``Additional research is under way to interpret the effects in mice.''

Results showed an overall increase in benign lung tumors. At the highest dosage level, there was an increase in malignant tumors in female mice.

Shirley anticipates ``some very valuable data over the next year as we continue to look at this research and hone in on the relevance of such studies to humans.''

SIRC expects to complete a final report on the initial mouse study by year-end. The center, an SPI special-purpose group, has researched the health effects of styrene for almost a decade.

On another front, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is moving to prioritize potentially hazardous chemicals under the state's Proposition 65 initiative. A list of prioritized chemicals, including styrene, will appear soon in the state register and be subject to a workshop prior to submission to Prop 65's largely academic Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Committee.

A medium-high or high priority ``goes on the front burner'' and potentially could lead, in styrene's case, to the need for ``product labeling on cups'' and other such items, Shirley said.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati-based American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists is considering adoption of 20 ppm as a voluntary workplace threshold limit for styrene occupational exposure in industrial facilities. Also at the group's annual meeting in Dallas, ACGIH was planning to adopt a listing for styrene as ``not classifiable as a human carcinogen.''

Some states regulate or legislate styrene levels based on ACGIH recommendations.

Under an agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, industry has committed voluntarily to reach 50 ppm by July 1.

``OSHA regulates in the workplace but sometimes relies on ACGIH in setting precedents,'' Shirley said.

Primary education program flourishing

A program educating schoolchildren about plastics is growing.

SPI's ``Southern California, Northern California and Pacific Northwest chapters have committed to finance and support the expansion of this important program,'' Carole Monheim of Vetrotex CertainTeed Corp. said at SPI West.

She is outgoing Western Section chairwoman.

The section funded the Plastics Education Program's initial pilot phase, spending $9,492 in the year ending May 1. The program is modeled on the PlastiVan project of the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Mass.

Educators Janet Flaherty in Northern California and Carolyn Knapp and Janine Whisler in Southern California made presentations to more than 20 elementary school classrooms in the past six months, Monheim said.

The PlastiVan visited eight schools in Northern California and the Portland, Ore., area in the past year.

City petitioning global FRP approval

A supervising city of Los Angeles mechanical engineer called for the International Conference of Building Officials to approve full use of fiber-reinforced plastic duct under the Uniform Mechanical Code. FRP is authorized now only for Class 5 duct; stainless steel has the general specification.

``A lot of engineers in industry are already using the product, because there is a specific need for it,'' said Daniel Strauss, who heads the mechanical engineering group at the city's massive Hyperion waste water treatment plant. ``Unless the ICBO jumps on the wagon, they are going to find themselves out of the loop.''

Los Angeles used FRP ducts for process air and ventilation systems as part of a decade-long $4.5 billion plant upgrade. The city's code-enforcing Building and Safety Department approved the use, but Strauss noted the department's jurisdiction is limited to the city of Los Angeles.

``I believe FRP is the most suitable product,'' he said, ``but stainless steel is in the code, and FRP is not.''

Whittier, Calif.-based ICBO is focusing on changes in the international code and, for now, has stopped processing changes in the UMC code. Usually, material suppliers or fabricators apply for an evaluation report on a particular product.

ICBO's evaluation service processes the application and files a report, providing an equivalency mechanism for a building official to approve an unlisted or inadequately specified product.