In its 25 years of existence, the Polyurethane Foam Association has fought and won many important battles for the foam industry, speakers said at a recent PFA meeting held in Washington.
But the battles it is fighting now are as crucial as any it has faced, they said.
PFA was founded as the Flexible Polyurethane Foam Manufacturers Association in 1980 and adopted its current name two years later, according to PFA President Vincent Bonaddio.
Flammability issues were the original focus of the association, and remain important, Bonaddio said, but environmental, workplace and community health and product safety issues also have come to the forefront since then.
Probably the biggest challenge PFA members face today, Bonaddio and other speakers agreed, is a program by the North Carolina Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Regulation and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The two agencies have proposed regulation of toluene diisocyanate emissions from flexible PU foam plants and other factories. They have developed a testing protocol for measuring TDI concentrations near facilities that use the substance, the speakers said, but PFA finds the protocol seriously flawed.
``If the survey is conducted as now conceived, there is a high probability of inaccurate readings, public outcry and trouble for polyurethane foam manufacturers,'' Bonaddio said.
PFA, its North Carolina chapter and TDI suppliers are funding an effort to educate state officials and environmentalists on the best science for measuring TDI, he added.
PU foam makers in the United States also are increasingly concerned about foam imports, which now constitute about 27 percent of the U.S. market, Bonaddio said.
``Every shipment constitutes a flexible polyurethane foam sale lost to our competitors,'' he said, adding that quality concerns about some of the imports are hurting the image of all PU foam manufacturers.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently released a proposed flammability standard for mattresses that should become final later this year, said James McIntyre, PFA legal counsel. The CPSC rule is modeled largely on California Technical Bulletin 603, which also covers mattress flammability, he said.
Although no stakeholder in the CPSC standard has a serious problem with it, PFA members could have trouble meeting its provisions regarding smoldering and small open flames, McIntyre said.
Public information and education programs always have been central to PFA's operations, the speakers said. One of those efforts is the Fire Prevention Alliance, a coalition of foam, furniture, mattress and textile manufacturers founded two years ago to establish a proactive consumer fire safety program.
Recently, PFA and the Alliance of the Polyurethane Industry united to contribute more than $50,000 for a pilot program to provide fire safety information to 150 rural churches in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, said Lou Peters, chairman of the Fire Prevention Alliance and former PFA executive director.
``Eventually we hope to do a multimillion-dollar, multiyear program,'' Peters said.
However, initial results of the pilot effort were disappointing. The alliance hoped to distribute 3,000-4,000 fire safety kits to rural areas through local churches, including money-back coupons for the purchase of smoke detectors, he said. But of the 150 targeted churches, only 28 even responded to the original letter, and maybe 15 actually distributed safety kits to their parishioners. Nobody asked for money back from the purchase of a smoke detector.
``People in the rural South tend to be suspicious of outsiders,'' Peters said. ``They've been conned a lot of times, and they have no idea who we are. That's the part we have to handle.''
At the spring meeting, PFA named two individuals and a corporation to its Hall of Fame for their contributions to the development of PU foam: the late Robert A. Volz of Scott Paper Co. and Foamex Corp., the late Harris W. Bradley of North Carolina Foam Industries Inc., and Union Carbide Corp.
The association also presented Lifetime Achievement Awards to Brian Fogg of Huntsman Polyurethanes LLC and Mike Curti of Crest Foam Industries Inc.