WD-40 Safety Regulation Called Into Question

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – A former manufacturer of WD-40 claims in Federal Court that lax regulation has put millions of “defective, hazardous” cans on store shelves.
     The Sept. 24 complaint by Houston-based IQ Products takes aim at the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, claiming that they have known for the past three years “that WD-40 Company is responsible for the manufacture, transport, distribution and sale to consumers of cans of their WD-40 branded aerosol lubricant that are dangerously defective.”
     Though WD-40 Co. is not a party to the suit, IQ has sued the maker of the popular lubricant before. Back in 2012, the company told a federal judge in Texas that WD-40 repudiated a licensing deal regarding can manufacturing in retaliation for a suggestion IQ supposedly made about a safer design.
     WD-40 Co. spokeswoman Wendy Kelley called IQ’s allegations “simply untrue.”
     “Millions of consumers worldwide have safely used WD-40 Company’s products for decades without incident,” Kelley said in an email.
     IQ says the design issue arises from WD-40 Co.’s decision in 1996 to change its formula to replace its propane-butane propellant with a high-pressure carbon dioxide propellant.
     “Surprisingly, WD-40 Company made this critical technological change without first conducting any proper scientific research and development,” the new complaint states.
     IQ says that this “non-scientific and untested chemical formulation” for the packaging components “resulted in a can that, once assembled, is highly susceptible to permanent deformation,” which “violates the federal regulations governing the manufacture and transport of hazardous products” and “dangerously increases the possibility of a sudden explosion when the product is exposed to high heat.”
     When a WD-40 can containing the “New Formula” exploded at IQ’s manufacturing facility in 2010, it sent “pieces of metal shrapnel flying throughout the production line in the factory,” according to the complaint.
     IQ says it ceased manufacturing the new product and began an investigation immediately, ultimately finding “a fundamental problem with WD-40 products: the cans containing the New Product exhibit defects and those defects flagrantly violate federal regulations prohibiting deformation in aerosol products.”
     Though WD-40’s original specifications for the can called for the use of a conical-cup valve, the “WD-40 Company inexplicably changed the specifications to require the use of a ‘flat-cup valve'” a year later, according to the complaint.
     IQ says the problem is that “a flat-cup valve is too weak to withstand the high pressure created when the cans are filled with the New Formula and subjected to the heat conditions required by federal regulations, which results in deformation.”
     The discovery allegedly led IQ to write the PHMSA on Sept. 27, 2012, “seeking to confirm its finding that the existence of these permanent deformations violates federal regulations governing hazardous materials.”
     IQ claims that it did not initially identify WD-40 as the company that had directed the production of these defective products, but instead simply inquired whether cans exhibiting permanent deformation of the valve area would be unsuitable for transportation. The letter also allegedly asked if a company violates federal regulations by knowingly manufacturing and transporting defective aerosol cans.
     When the PHMSA answered with an “unequivocal yes” to both questions in an Oct. 19, 2012, letter, IQ says it then informed the agencies of its findings specific to WD-40’s products, “and requested that defendants begin a prompt investigation, given the dangers posed by the WD-40 aerosol products in the United States.”
     The PHMSA “belatedly commenced an ‘investigation’ sometime in January 2013,” IQ says, but its “investigators lacked training and an understanding of the basic engineering principles governing the manufacture of aerosol products.”
     IQ says the regulators also “inexplicably and unlawfully reversed course from their previous position and concluded – contrary to the plain language of the federal regulations forbidding any ‘permanent deformation’ in any aerosol can – that permanent deformation of aerosol cans was acceptable.”
     “In doing so, defendants have improperly rewritten federal regulation to create a new precedent that, if unchanged, will permit the manufacture and sale of dangerous products that create a significant risk of harm to the public,” the complaint states.     
     WD-40 Co. meanwhile emphasizes that product safety has been the company’s “top priority” for more than 60 years.
     “This claim arose out of a pricing disagreement that resulted in the termination of a long-standing business relationship between WD-40 Company and IQ Products,” Kelley said in an email. “Both an arbitration panel and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation have reviewed these concerns and soundly rejected IQ’s allegations regarding the safety of WD-40 Company’s products.”
     IQ counters that the government’s regulatory failure has put “millions of consumers remain at risk of serious injury or death from these defective cans.”
     “As a result of defendants’ failure to perform their duties, millions of cans of defective hazardous products that may kill or seriously injure members of the general public have been sold, and millions more continue to be manufactured, transported, shipped to stores, and left on store shelves to be purchased by unsuspecting consumers,” the complaint states.
     IQ counts “more than 30 million unlawfully manufactured, defective WD-40 cans in interstate commerce and in consumers’ homes.”
     In addition to risking consumer safety, the government’s failures have hurt IQ’s business, the company says.
     Though “IQ possesses a substantial quantity of defective WD-40 finished goods,” the company says it cannot ship or distribute the products “under the applicable federal regulations.”
     Neither agency has given IQ a “substantive response” about the insufficiency of the investigation and report, according to the complaint.
     Insisting that the government should begin an immediate recall, IQ wants the court to declare PHMSA’s action unlawful.
     IQ is represented by Gary Studen with Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Manhattan. The PHMSA has not returned a request for comment.

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