Clark Foam vs. the EPA

I’m writing today about a situation that I just learned of which hits pretty close to home for us. Some of you may have realized from my writings that my husband is a surfer (has been since the 60’s) and it has played a rather large role in our life – we host a website dedicated to local surfers where we post pictures of them that we have caught at local surf spots. My hubby along with a number of his friends have made several surfboards – both for themselves and others.

It came to my attention last night that Clark Foam, the producer of 90% of the polyurethane surfboard blanks used world-wide has been closed down by the 9th District of the EPA for a two-week period while they investigate the factory which they believe does not meet industry standards. At issue is the chemical toluene diioscyanate commonly known as TDI along with the fact that the technology inside the factory was designed and built by Gordon “Grubby” Clark in the 60’s.

In a fax which Clark sent out to shapers on Monday afternoon, he says that the citation issued him by the EPA could mean prison time for him or the fining of an “astronomical” amount of money. He also apologised to customers and employees saying “I should have seen this coming many years sooner and closed in a slower, more predictable manner . . . I waited far too long, being optimistic rather than realistic.”

And, frankly, the research that I’ve done overnight on my own, I can understand why he would be optimistic. According to the EPA website, research on toluene diioscyanate has been rather inconclusive – a number of studies have been done over five-year periods and while it has been shown that inhaling TDI is a bad thing (that’s why they wear respirators, yanno?) the only link to increased cancer that has been shown was when they put to substance into the stomachs of rats! TDI is not only found in the manufacture of surfboard blanks, but also in sealants, adhesives, carpets, furniture, etc. – probably in items found in every home in the world!

So it seems to me that Gordon Clark’s only crime is one of naivete – most other companies using this chemical have already left California, where, by the way, simultaneously with the Federal EPA implementing a slightly weaker version of California’s existing anti-TDI law in 1999, California itself actually instituted stronger laws against its use.

The outcome of this investigation could potentially have a devastating effect, at least in the short term, on the surf industry. Yes, there are other ways to make boards. (Polystyrene, epoxy, etc.) Yes, others will move in to take up some of the slack – but in the short term, at least, there are going to be jobs lost, manufacturers of boards who have to lay off employees, and prices of surfboards will definitely increase. I’ve already heard some rumbling in the surf community (not known for their conservative views in general) that “he shoulda known better” or “he coulda switched to a less harmful way of manufacture – it wouldn’t cost that much” but to those folks I just say get real – if it could have been done better, cheaper, smarter – why did he end up with such a corner on the market? Seems to me it would be a real feather in the cap of a new manufacturer to be able to say that they had a safer way to produce a polyurethane blank.

My heart, personally, breaks for Gordon Clark, his employees, and the shapers, manufacturers, hobbiests, etc. who are losing a great resource. While most homes in America may not have a surfboard among their prized possessions, of those of us who do – Clark Foam has had a solid reputation for almost 45 years.

In a letter of allocation placed on the web for their customers, I think Matthew Weaver of Fiberglass Supply sums it up best:

It behooves all involved to take some time to reflect on what is happening to Clark Foam, and what is happening here in the United States. We need to be concerned about the future viability of manufacturing in the U.S. especially in regards to small businesses and the regulatory burdens placed on them. We need to become educated in the issues and facts. Then we must act. Write letters to your legislators and become involved in local area politics and organizations.

While my own family doesn’t rely on Clark Foam for our livelihood, I’ve never felt a governmental burden hit more close to home – and I’m afraid we may have reached the end of an era.

Update – Quotes from the EPA and local officials are coming out now, saying they did not force Clark Foam’s Closure. But I think Clark himself spells out pretty clearly what has happened:

“Meeting increasingly stringent environmental regulations would cost millions of dollars.”

“The way the government goes after places like Clark Foam is by an accumulation of laws, regulations, and subjective decisions they are allowed to use to express their intent. Essentially they remove your security, increase your risk or liability, and increase your costs.”

“They simply grind away until you either quit or they find methods of bringing serious charges or fines that force you to close,” Clark wrote.

Cross-posted at Left Brain Female

Homeschooling Security Mom, Political Junkie, Believe in upholding the Constitution – and subscribe to the theory that gun control is the ability to hit your target!