Product Advisory notices have been sent to importers, Building Code Associations and Homebuilder Associations throughout the U.S. warning against the purchase or sale of substandard and unsafe plywood imported from Brazil. The distribution of the notices are the result of a motion for preliminary injunction filed on June 5 by ten U.S. plywood companies who make up the U.S. Structural Plywood Integrity Coalition.
The coalition, which operates twelve U.S. plywood plants in six states that employ over 4,500 workers, sued Timber Products Inspection (“TPI)”) and PFS-Corporation (“PFS-TECO”) last September in federal court in Florida. TPI and PFS-TECO are the agencies that license structural grade stamps to plywood plants in Brazil. The stamps are required to enter the U.S. market. The substandard Brazilian plywood has been used in construction throughout the U.S. and during reconstruction efforts following hurricanes along the East coast, including Florida and Puerto Rico.
“This case highlights how a few bad actors who profited by essentially looking the other way while substandard, and potentially dangerous plywood was imported into the U.S. and used to build our homes and businesses,” said Michael Haglund, counsel representing the U.S. manufacturers.
The substandard plywood is produced by 34 plants in southern Brazil. Companies like PFS-TECO and TPI inspect and certify that the plywood meets certain standards prior to import and sale in the U.S. Building codes require that structural grade plywood panels incorporated into roofs, floors and walls of residential and commercial buildings in the U.S. are PS 1-09 certified for structural integrity. Although the Brazilian plywood was stamped PS 1-09 by PFS-TECO and TPI, it experienced massive failure rates during testing by the American Plywood Association (APA) and Clemson University.
The coalition’s motion asks a federal judge to order the revocation of all of the PS 1-09 certificates that TPI and PFS-TECO have issued to Brazilian mills. These two agencies must respond to the motion by June 19. A hearing before judge Roy Altman in Florida is expected In late June or early July.
“In my view, the failing results found by the APA in 2018, TPI in 2018 and Clemson University in 2019 should be no surprise given the fundamentally lax character of the quality assurance system administered by TPI and PFS-TECO in Brazil,” said Dennis Hardman, retired president and CEO of the APA.
In 2018-19 alone Brazilian plywood peaked at 10% of all U.S. supply with more than 887 million square feet sold. While much of that plywood went into new construction throughout the U.S., it was also used to help rebuild homes and buildings in Florida and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria due to its cheaper price. Haglund notes that the use of substandard materials in construction is concerning anytime, but especially when considering the possible risks to building integrity during a future hurricane.
“[The panels] may fail catastrophically due to inadequate glue bond strength, or they may fail catastrophically due to the inability of fasteners to adequately support a thinner or lower density panel,” said Ronald W. Anthony, Wood Scientist at Anthony & Associates. “Under high-wind events, a panel with material properties lower than the criteria defined in a standard such as PS 1-09 puts the public at risk of injury due to failure of the plywood panel.”
In a significant development last week, a mediation produced a settlement between the coalition and a third defendant, International Accreditation Service, Inc. (“IAS”), which accredits TPI and PFS-TECO to inspect and test structural plywood. IAS has now joined the coalition in advocating for “enhanced oversight procedures” for agencies that certify and inspect plywood the meets the PS 1-09 standard.
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