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Plastic Pipe Trade Groups Hope For 'a Stronger Voice'

ABIS Mold Technology Co.,Ltd Updated: May 12, 2017

The two major trade groups representing polymer pipe producers have been extolling the benefits of their non-corroding products for decades as they compete against each other and pipe materials that have been around for more than a century.

The directors of the Plastics Pipe Institute and the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association said they welcome the American Chemistry Council's effort to spur debate about what they see as outdated procurement policies and bidding specifications that protect legacy pipe products at the expense of taxpayers and innovative infrastructure.

"The ACC has the wherewithal to give us a stronger voice," Tony Radoszewski, president of the Plastics Pipe Institute, said in a telephone interview. "The ACC brings its reputation, political clout, and financial and human resources — they have boots on the ground — to give a voice that heretofore we may not have had the opportunity to express."

The message is simple: If a city, township or village receives state funds for pipe or any product, all the products that meet engineering requirements should be allowed in the bidding process.

"We call it fair and open competition. That's all we're asking for," Radoszewski said. "We're not forcing anyone's hand to use a product. We're not saying one product is better than another. We're saying at least allow the materials to compete."

Based in Dallas, PPI has 150 members that are mostly manufacturers of polyethylene pipe, which dominates oil-and-natural-gas gathering applications with its heat-fused, leak-free joints. PPI estimates PE pipe has about 15 percent of the sanitary sewer market and 8 percent of the potable pipe market in the United States. In Europe, however, PE is the No. 1 pipe material used in water systems.

PVC and ductile iron pipe are the major materials being installed in U.S. water and sewer systems, according to Bruce Hollands, executive director of the PVC pipe association, which also is based in Dallas and has about 45 business members and affiliates.

Hollands hopes ACC's effort raises awareness about plastic pipe in the northern Midwest and the Northeast — "areas where you have the most iron-only specification" — and challenge the "conservative bent" of civil engineers only comfortable with traditional materials.

"Think of it this way: If you were putting in a phone system, would you use telephone poles or go with a cellular network?" Hollands asked.

He isn't worried that question will be answered with PE pipe or any product but PVC.

"We're very confident of where our material stands in the mix," he said. "We have no problem competing with all materials."

Wanting a chance

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires open material  selection and bidding for rural water and sewer projects using federal funds in municipalities with populations of 10,000 or less, Hollands said.

"This is a long-standing policy of the USDA program for rural communities since the 1970s," he added. "It works well, so why don't we do the same thing with the funding that states provide localities? If the state is going to fund water or sewer projects, why not require all materials that meet the standards of the day in the project specifications? In the end, the engineers can decide."

Rural communities seeking out the lowest qualified bidders have installed a lot of PVC pipe and it's performing well, Hollands said.

"When you allow everyone to compete, then the materials that are the most cost-effective and durable have a chance to take their spot in the marketplace," he said. "There are some very large rural systems in the Dakotas with 6,000 miles of PVC piping in them — and large 36- and 42-inch segments — with extremely low break rates."

Both long-term operating and maintenance costs for plastic pipes are lower than iron pipes, which corrode then leak and break, polymer pipe advocates said.

Cold climates aren't a problem either, Hollands said, although the competition claims otherwise. For example, an April 4 comment on a Michigan news site by someone who describes herself as a marketer of concrete pipe says PVC isn't appropriate for areas with deep frost levels like the state's Upper Peninsula.

"Well, how do you account for the fact that PVC is used even more widely in Canada than the United States?" Hollands asked. "That completely negates that point."

The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association also continues to lobby against open procurement legislation, portraying it on their website and at public meetings as an attempt to seek "preferential treatment" for plastic and a threat to local choice.

"This is not a fight among pipe materials. It is a fight to preserve local and professional control," DIPRA's website says.

Plastic pipe proponents argue they are seeking equal treatment for engineered products that will widen choices for municipalities.

"If we weren't a better product and a more economical product, they wouldn't care, but apparently they do," Radoszewski said. "When hearings come up, they bring all their buddies in for a show of force that this is a bad thing. They're pulling out all the stops they can to cause an emotional reaction to the legislation rather than a logical reaction to the legislation."

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