Lou Peters officially may be retired as executive director of the Polyurethane Foam Association, but he's still passionate about the flexible polyurethane foam industry, and still working hard for the PFA as a consultant.
Mike Curti, president of Crest Foam Industries Inc. in Moonachie, N.J., sums up Peters and his influence: ``In a lot of people's minds, Lou is the PFA. He's just a superb organizer, but more importantly, he was really instrumental in creating a lot of good publicity for the foam industry and deflecting bad publicity.''
The industry still faces a number of crises, mostly on the environmental front. Peters said he was the natural person to coordinate PFA's efforts in that area, not just because of his 18 years of experience with the association, but also because of his many friendships within related industries and state governments.
``I can be a lightning rod at times, because of my previous contacts,'' he said.
The biggest crisis the PFA has faced to date - indeed, the main crisis that led to its formation in 1980, with Peters as one of the co-founders - is flammability, which threatened to shut down the flexible PU foam industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Peters' leadership is widely credited with deflecting the worst criticism and correcting misconceptions held by fire officials, bureaucrats and the media.
``I've worked with Lou for 20 years,'' said Bob Luedeka, longtime public relations head of Knoxville, Tenn.-based PFA, who took over Dec. 31 as executive director. ``Without question, he was successful in changing the way polyurethane foam was perceived outside the industry.
``When reporters covered household fires, they always talked about polyurethane as the culprit. Lou was able to get them to realize that these were furniture fires, not polyurethane fires, because polyurethane is seldom, if ever, where the fires start.''
Peters worked with PFA members, state agencies, and furniture and bedding manufacturers to create workable flammability tests. He also was instrumental in creating the association's programs addressing fire safety public education, as well as technical and reference programs for TV, radio, the Internet and print media, Luedeka said.
Barry Zimmerman, president of Pragmatica Corp. in New York, also gave Peters high marks for leadership and savvy, both technical and political.
``Lou took on the position at a very critical time for the industry,'' said Zimmerman, who worked with Peters at Union Carbide Corp. and recommended him for the PFA executive director's job. ``We were facing all the issues of flammability, toxicity and smoke. Lou made a major contribution in putting all the issues together. He did a terrific job in handling all the would-be government regulators.''
Peters, after receiving a chemical engineering degree from Lehigh University in 1955, spent 30 years with Union Carbide in research and development, sales and marketing. He was active in the Polyurethane Foam Division of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. before co-founding PFA.
In his ``retirement,'' Peters said, there are still plenty of issues he works on for the association. Perhaps the most important is working with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on the state agency's plan to regulate toluene diisocyanate emissions from North Carolina sites that use TDI, not just PU foam plants.
Peters now splits his time between his home in Wayne and a vacation home in Florida.