Triangle NoTES - April 2010

This issue is only going out to non-regulatory addresses partly to allow a better monitoring and partly due to the nature of the subject.

As everyone may know, we use Federal Express for our shipments now. We cancelled our UPS account some years ago over damage and service issues, but we still receive incoming shipments utilizing their services. It is those incoming shipments which are a concern for us and anyone using them. From our experiences, UPS has never been as easy as Federal Express in the shipment of dry ice in the Method 25 coolers. Shipping the canisters (tanks) was generally the same until less than a year ago. In the last year, I have been asked to ship tanks via the local UPS store, which required a full thirty minute conversation with the UPS hazardous shipping specialists. This involved canisters being shipped to the field under a vacuum of ~16 inches Hg and I still had trouble convincing them the shipment was not a problem. In the same period we have received three incoming shipments in which the shipping containers were unsealed. Each of the three shipments had a mixture of both sides of boxes sealed, one side of boxes sealed, and completely unsealed boxes. In one case, one of the completely unsealed boxes contained tanks with samples in them when shipped. The tanks were missing on delivery and have never been found, to my knowledge. In all three cases the people responsible for the shipping swore they had sealed all of the boxes on both sides with the wire ties and in two cases had further sealed the boxes with tape. In one case, two of the tanks were returned to the shipper in the fear they had been a hazardous shipment, although they were evacuated and were to be analyzed as equipment blanks.

In the case of the lost tanks, UPS supposedly waffled considerably concerning what had happened, but the most probable explanation they provided concerned their right to inspect any container. I do not think anyone would dispute that right although it would seem to also carry the duty to reseal the container once the inspection was completed. This explanation seems plausible given the number of boxes which were sealed with ties and tape when shipped, but were at least partially opened when we received them.

I do not know the final outcome of the lost sample tanks issue, but the loss of one box of sampled tanks could invalidate most sampling projects and force a re-sampling event. That could be a very expensive situation. To add insult to injury in the situation of the lost tanks, UPS balked at paying the insurance loss claims. This was partly why we stopped shipping with UPS. Early on they had declared the use of new boxes was a requirement of their insurance coverage for damages. This was not possible as the tanks needed to be returned from the field and the new boxes required could not easily be included in the initial shipment. That was just before we switched to the use of the plastic reusable shipping containers, which are still in use. This by-passed their “out” of claiming the ‘used’ boxes were the cause of any damage or loss. It was not long afterward that an additional surcharge for every non-cardboard container was implemented, which made Federal Express more economical when comparing shipping costs. This greater cost combined with what seemed to be a policy of denial of damage claims based upon circular logic pushed us to Federal Express to ensure our customers received the best shipping service. Federal Express had never claimed the damages from shipping were due to the improper packing because if the shipment had been properly packed there would not have been any damages as was the case with one UPS shipment. I failed to see how the cardboard box not being heavy enough to prevent the 1/8" aluminum angled leg from being bent was the cause of the damages, but that was the assurance of the UPS inspector. That size 12 shoe print centered on the “Fragile” sticker and the crushed section of the box had nothing to do with the damages inside because a properly packed box would support the weight of the average UPS employee.

With these issues in mind, when you ship samples to anywhere using UPS, document the condition of the packages prior to shipping and consider the cost of the loss of any portion of the shipment on the validity of that project before shipping.

Of course, Federal Express is not completely devoid of issues, such as an spotty record for Saturday delivery of shipments here and one case of sending an outbound shipment to the wrong zip code. The previous Saturday delivery issues may have cleared up , but there is no way to determine the change without risking customer samples. The problem is that Saturday delivery usually involves a cooler with sample traps packed in dry ice. Thus, any mis-delivery can result in a delay until Monday, which could allow the dry ice to sublime and create a question concerning the validity of the samples. We have looked into some types of temperature monitors to document these parameters during shipment, but none have been shown to be practical in application.

So, please be very careful in the shipment of equipment via UPS and Fed-Ex to a lesser degree, especially when there are samples in the shipment.

Wayne Stollings

Triangle Environmental Services, Inc.