Latest News from BPCA

10 May 2018

Spent gases: In-transit fumigation risks, safety and opportunity

Pest control | PPC91 May 2018

Here at BPCA we have some pretty specialised companies working together to make sure we keep our standards high, swap useful knowledge and get the details of industry changes out to members. Martin Cobbald, Chair of the Fumigation and Controlled Environment (FaCE) Forum briefs us on in-transit fumigations, keeping customers safe, and getting paid in the process.

Spent gas in-transit fumigation risks, safety and oppertunity

The Fumigation and Controlled Environments (FaCE) Forum is the place that the best fumigators in the land gather, leaving all company interests at the door, and put their heads together to sort out what is best for the industry at large.

There have been some massive changes in pest control recently and fumigation hasn’t been immune. The changes to our sector have been fundamental, but it turns out we are a fairly resilient bunch!

OfQual told us to rewrite the entirety of our qualification. We rewrote it.

The HSE told us we had to retrain the entire industry. We’ve had the entire industry retrained.

We’ve had our primary products undergo major label changes by the CRD which has led to some big changes in the way we use it, and yet fumigation companies continue to flourish.

The latest change has come from BAuA in Germany. That’s the Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin which, of course, you know means ‘The Federal Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’ (basically the German version of the HSE). BAuA has declared that the new safe level for phosphine exposure is 0.01ppm of air. That’s ten times lower than it used to be.

Let me take a moment to explain why this matters.

Often, merchants or processors in the UK will need to source stuff from abroad. This can be in the form of plant material, maybe woven baskets, bags of beans, cotton bales or even straw hats. But what is just fetching headwear to you and me, is a delicious captive feast for certain insects.

Yes, cargo can be transported from country-to-country with more ease than ever but it can pick up unwanted travellers on the way in the form of midges, beetles, bugs, flies, caterpillars, mites and nematodes. Different countries have different attitudes to the risk that these pests pose, from the fairly relaxed to the downright paranoid.

In Antwerp last year, a cargo inspector was reported killed trying to transport ‘deactivated’ residues away from the harbour

In the UK we are, rightly or wrongly, on the relaxed end of the spectrum. We have a cool, damp climate and so a lot of pests just can’t thrive here. That being said, there are currently more than 950 risk registered pests that might be imported from abroad. Out of these there are 30 that would pose a serious risk to our country’s plant health (source: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – UK Plant Health Risk Register).

Making stuff safe for import before it gets here is what fumigators do. They fill the shipping containers with toxic gas to make sure the pests are dead. Sometimes, however, exporters will save on costs and send the containers to the UK with a fumigation still going on while they are being shipped. It’s called in-transit fumigation and it is globally widespread.

It is estimated that 9% of shipping containers imported into the UK are ‘under gas’. With 10 million containers passing through UK ports (source: DfT UK Port Freight Statistics 2016), that’s a lot of fumigation!

None of this presents a problem so long as everyone involved in the shipping of the containers has been notified, the containers have been labelled as toxic and there is a qualified professional there to deal with the fumigant at the other end.

But it does cost money to do this notification so, you’ve guessed it, a lot of the time fumigated containers are imported with no one knowing about the toxic gas in the cargo.

This leads to lots of problems. In 2010, 14 Belfast dock workers were hospitalised following fumigant gas exposure. In 2013, six warehouse operatives were hospitalised in Rotterdam after being exposed to fumigant gases while unloading containers. In Antwerp last year, a cargo inspector was reported killed trying to transport ‘deactivated’ residues away from the harbour.

And it’s not just the big accidents that are the issue. Low levels of fumigant exposure over a long period (like ‘Billy the forklift driver’ might get) can cause cancers, brittle bones, anaemia, lung and gastrointestinal disorders.

Use your BPCA Membership for fumigated containers

So, if you’ve got a customer importing containers of raw materials or even finished products, ask them: “Are your containers fumigated?”, “Are you sure?”, “Would you like them gas checked?”
“Hang on,” you say, “You’ve just told me this stuff causes cancers, there’s no bloody way I’m going in there!”

Keep calm and use your BPCA membership. Check the Find a Pest Controller tool or use the Contract Sharing Network. There are fumigation companies near you who will be delighted to do the work for you. You can keep your customers safe, look good and, rightly, get a financial reward for your service.

Fumigators, who do the job every day, have some pretty fancy kit to detect toxic gases. And remember, these gases are now considered toxic right down to 0.01ppm.

If you are considering doing this on your own you must be trained. Level 3 Award in Safe Use of Fumigants for the Management of Invertebrate Pests - Unit 2 is what you need. BPCA provides this qualification. It’s a good one.

If you don’t have this qualification and something goes wrong, and someone makes a claim, you are going to be somewhere up a certain creek without a canoe, let alone a paddle. We’ve recently seen a company in court who literally got out of jail (sadly not free) in part because of well-trained staff. Make sure your training is up-to-spec or run the risk of dire consequences!

There is also the risk of the fumigant residues to consider. It’s likely these have not completely reacted so there is always some toxic gas evolution still to come. This means the residues must be transported safely and disposed of legally. Fumigators have specialised quenching tanks to deactivate these residues, and there is also the grand old cost of getting rid of the resulting metal hydroxides and various other goodies that result.

And, oh good lord, as if it wasn’t complicated enough already all fumigant waste must be disposed of as hazardous waste under the code EW 06 03 wastes from the MFSU of salts and their solutions and metallic oxides.

So, there’s a lot to consider when discussing container imports but here are the takeaways:

  • The safe level of phosphine gas has been lowered to 0.01ppm
  • If you want to detect to this level, you need some pretty fancy kit to be sure the container is safe for entry
  • If your customer imports anything, ask them if it’s fumigated (if it contains organic material, it is likely it is)
  • Make sure they are getting rid of the fumigant legally using a trained professional
  • Use your membership – even if you don’t know how to approach a fumigated container, BPCA knows someone who does, who will work for you.
  • Remember, ‘Billy the forklift driver’ is at risk if you don’t ask these questions!

Awareness is key. If we can’t make importers aware of the practice of in-transit fumigation, they may not even know the risks and there is no way to keep their workers safe.

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Martin Cobbald headMartin Cobbald
Chair of the BPCA FaCE Forum
1 May 2018  |  PPC91

Source: PPC91

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