Date PostedMay 4, 2013

Ventilation of Fumigated Freight Containers with Methyl Bromide Mixtures

fumigationFumigation is necessary in Australia to protect our flora and fauna from unwanted pests that may enter the country via containers of goods from overseas.

If major pests such as the Giant African Snail, exotic wood borers or fruit fly entered into Australia and were allowed to breed in the country then major damage could be wreaked on our environment as well as our horticultural and agricultural industries.

This is why we have regulations that state that particular commodities that are brought to this country from overseas must be fumigated with methyl bromide.

The full bulletin can be found regarding the requirements and risks at http://www.worksafe.nt.gov.au/and we have included an extract from the safety bulletin below:

Product description

Methyl bromide is classed as a toxic gas. It is a colourless, nonflammable gas with no taste or odour at low concentrations.  At very high levels, a sweetish odour may be detected.  A lacrimator (an agent that irritates the eyes) such as chloropicrin is mixed with MeBr for detection purposes to prevent significant exposure. 

Potential Health effects

  • Skin contact with high vapour concentrations or with liquid MeBr can cause systemic toxicity and may cause stinging pain and blisters.
  • MeBr is a neurotoxic gas that can cause convulsions, coma, and long-term neuromuscular and cognitive deficits.
  • Exposure to high concentrations of pure MeBr may cause inflammation of the bronchi or lungs, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs, and irritation of the eyes and nose. Lacrimators added to MeBr to provide warning of its presence can also cause these symptoms, even at very low concentrations.
  • MeBr is accumulative and therefore appropriate health surveillance considered in any risk management strategies.

Precautions before entering fumigated containers

1. Before the container arrives, identify where the shipping container originates from.  Even if the container came from interstate, it may have originated from overseas.

2. Where a container has arrived from overseas, it should be assumed it has been fumigated with MeBr as a precautionary approach.

3. If the container has been fumigated with MeBr, a risk assessment should be completed by the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) and appropriate procedures developed to allow workers to ventilate and enter.  The PCBU should ensure workers are trained in these procedures and are issued with, and have been trained in the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) considerations

Consistent with the risk assessment, PPE considerations could include:

  • Elbow length chemical gloves;
  • Full coveralls;
  • Full face mask equipped with:
  1. multi-gas filters; or 
  2. an organic vapour cartridge filter, that is designed to cover Methyl bromide and chloropicrin mixed gas (filter type will depend upon the brand & type of full face mask that you purchase); or
  3. Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).

Source:http://www.worksafe.nt.gov.au/Bulletins/IndustrySectors/TransportandStorage/04.02.06.pdf

Peter Cutforth is a Director at Urban E-Learning, a global elearning and web strategy firm based in George St Brisbane. Peter's interests extend to training, safety and compliance, online marketing, and Mobile Apps.

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