When pests turn out to be a nuisance, we call pest control to get rid of them from our house, the shed in our back yard, or even the garden.
Pests cause damage to property and crops and are major carriers of disease-causing germs and viruses that affect human beings. The loss caused by pests is simply too huge.
Globally, several billions of dollars of loss are reported yearly due to damage caused by pests.
What are pests? Pests are organisms such as cockroaches, mites, termites, certain types of beetles, worms, ants, rodents, pigeons, etc.
Fumigation is one of the most effective methods of combating and removing pests from buildings and structures such as silos, containers, and merchandise.
Fumigation is also used to control weeds and fungal growth in agricultural lands and gardens. Other methods to control pests include spraying pesticides, poisoned baits that kill pests, physical and biological pest control measures, etc.
Just as you would fumigate your homes and property to get rid of pests and prevent them from returning, shipping containers also need fumigation.
In international shipping, fumigation is very effective when shipping certain types of cargo, like flour or wood products. Shippers can transport these materials only after disinfecting them and providing a disinfection certificate. Only then can the freight enter the destined country; otherwise, the spread of invasive species is threatened. Also, certain vessel areas should be fumigated timely to keep them clean.
When food materials or plants are transported by shipping containers, they become natural magnets for pests. Pests often find their way inside containers and cause contamination and destruction.
Besides, if left untreated, these pests can breed and multiply quickly, spreading to other cargo and locations.
A shipping container travels worldwide and transports pests unknowingly if these containers are not kept clean and sanitary.
Table of Contents
How is Fumigation Carried Out?
Fumigation uses poisonous gases that are classed as pesticides or fumigants to fill an entire place, suffocate the pests, and kill them.
It may also be used to treat grains and other agricultural produce to kill pests, prevent their transmission, and destroy the material.
There are several companies the World over that undertake fumigation. It could be fumigating the premises, an empty container, or cargo meant for export.
Fumigation must be carried out carefully and by certified, well-qualified pest control operators. It can be hazardous if the operation is not performed carefully, as the fumigants used are very toxic to humans, plants, and animals.
The most common pesticide gases used for fumigation are methyl bromide and phosphine.
Authorities in most countries insist on a fumigation certificate or a phytosanitary certificate for the cargo that is imported into the country. The load can be denied entry to the country if these certificate from the proper authority is not produced.
This applies to Less-than Container Loads (LCL) and Full Container Loads (FCL). Sometimes cargo without fumigation or phytosanitary certificate may be taken to the quarantine yard and subject to fumigation by the authorities at the importer’s cost.
Fumigation is essential in preventing the spread of exotic pests and weeds. Exotic pests are new to a country and are often invasive species that multiply and spread rapidly if left unchecked. They pose a danger to the local flora and fauna, often overrunning their habitat and exhausting their food supplies. Pests are also dangerous to human beings as they are often carriers of diseases.
Wooden pallets used in shipping are a favourite breeding ground for pests. The wood used in making pallets provides a safe place for them to live and lay eggs. The Asian gipsy moth, the Asian lady beetle, etc., are examples of pests that thrive on wooden materials such as pallets.
Methods of Fumigation
The two main fumigation methods are the Full container load (FCL) method and the Less-than container load (LCL) method.
When a full container load of cargo is to be fumigated, the fumigant is pumped inside the closed container, and the gas is kept inside for some time.
Later, the container is opened and ventilated before closing and sealing for dispatch. This method applies to the fumigation of empty containers and when it is fully laden.
In the LCL method, the cargo is kept separately under an airtight covering such as a tarp or plastic sheet and fumigated. The gas is allowed to stay inside for some time and later released.
The cargo is then kept in the open to eliminate the fumes completely and for dissipation of the odour before it is taken for dispatch.
Ventilation post-fumigation is critical to disperse the fumigants.
Gases Used in Fumigation
Methyl Bromide (CH3Br), phosphate (PH3), sulfuryl fluoride (SO2F2), chloropicrin, dichloropropene, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde etc. are some of the commonly used pesticide gases used to fumigate containers and loose cargo loads.
The chemical formula of methyl bromide is CH3Br. It treats infestation by several types of pests ranging from spiders, mites, and insects to nematodes and rodents. It is an odourless and non-inflammable gas.
Aluminium phosphide is a joint phosphine-releasing agent that has a chemical formula of AlP. It is used as pellets or grains and releases phosphine when it comes in contact with atmospheric moisture or water. This gas has a strong and pungent smell and is highly flammable. It is most effective in treating infestation by insects.
Sulfuryl fluoride (SO2F2), another odourless and non-inflammable gas, is particularly effective against pests such as the Formosan termites, wood and carpet beetles, moths, cockroaches, bedbugs, rodents, etc.
Some countries are gradually phasing out methyl bromide because of its ozone-depleting properties and replacing it with phosphine.
The most significant hazard with all such fumigant gases is the danger of accidental inhalation. They can cause headaches, vomiting and nausea, impaired vision and eye irritation, or respiratory problems in humans. Prolonged exposure to these gases may also lead to carcinogenic issues.
Another danger is that with the prolonged and sometimes uncontrolled use of these fumigants and pesticides worldwide, pests also build up resistance against these pesticides. These days several pesticide-resistant insects and organisms are being discovered, and newer chemicals must be formulated to combat these.
Precautions During Fumigation
The personnel responsible for the fumigation of cargo and shipping containers should be adequately trained in the process and be aware of the measures to be taken if exposed to these gases by accident.
They should be able to identify the fumigants used and be familiar with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety gear.
Any fumigation work must be notified in advance to all employees of the organization where the fumigation will occur.
Sufficient notices and warning signs should be posted on the premises and on-site where the fumigation is carried out, showing the activities, timings of fumigation, etc.
When a shipping container is fumigated, it should have a notice or placard pasted on it in a visible position with details of the fumigation, such as the party fumigating it, the start and end time, and the person responsible for the operation with his contact details. All non-essential staff should be moved away from the fumigation site.
The staff who carry out the fumigation should wear the appropriate gas masks and personal protective gear to protect themselves from accidental inhalation and exposure to the fumigants.
Exposure to fumigants can be significantly reduced by loading and unloading equipment such as trolleys, forklifts, or pallet jacks.
They are ventilating the fumigation site properly after fumigation is very important to get rid of the fumes and odour of the fumigants. However, residues can still be found after this, so precautions must be followed.
International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM)
The International Plant Protection Convention, or IPPC, is a treaty set up in 1951 and coordinated by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.
It is headquartered in Rome, Italy. Its main objective is to prevent and control pests and other organisms from spreading across international borders and affecting the global ecosystem.
The International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15) is a measure for controlling the spread of organisms and insects that attack flora and fauna of a country.
ISPM No. 15 focuses mainly on wood and wooden materials used in the packaging of cargo for shipment. Wood is a medium that is easily affected by these organisms and insects.
ISPM No. 15 calls for the treatment of any equipment made of wood that is 6 mm or thicker to rid them of such organisms and insects. Such wooden materials must be heat-treated or fumigated using the correct pesticide gas such as methyl bromide, etc.
Containers or less-than-container loads also have to be fumigated using these pesticide gases. The quarantine time after fumigation is usually 24 hours, after which it has to be ventilated suitably before being released.
In heat treatment, the wooden pallets are made to withstand temperatures up to 56° C for about 30 minutes. The heat destroys all pests, their eggs, and fungal growths. This is the most environment-friendly pest control method, as no chemicals are involved.
Treated wooden materials usually are branded with an ISPM stamp. ISPM exempts items that are made of hardboard or plywood.
Fumigation Certificate and Phytosanitary Certificate
A fumigation certificate or a phytosanitary certificate most importantly shows the following details:
- Certificate identification number
- Details of the authorized organization issuing the certificate
- Details of the trusted organization to which the certificate is issued
- Description, number of packages, and other elements of the cargo
- The name of the fumigant that has been used to treat the shipment and the container or the heat treatment method used
- Purpose of the treatment
- Exporter’s address
- Importer’s address
- Place of origin of the cargo
- Container or conveyance details
- Port of destination or entry of the cargo
The main difference between a fumigation certificate and a phytosanitary certificate is that the former is issued by the company that has completed the fumigation process. In contrast, the latter is given by authorized governmental bodies confirming that the cargo being exported has been treated to rid it of pests. That banned plants or animals are not being transported with the shipment.
In some countries, the fumigation certificate is also known as a Pest-control certificate. The phytosanitary report or certificate may require fumigation to be carried out before applying for it. In other words, a consignment of cargo may need both.
Issuing Bodies: Phytosanitary Certificates
In the US, the phytosanitary certificate is issued by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which comes under the United States Department of Agriculture. A request form (Plant Protection and Quarantine form or PPQ form 572) has to be submitted to the APHIS for inspection and issuance of a phytosanitary certificate.
In India, the Ministry of Agriculture has authorized Plant Protection Officers. They operate from the various centres (mostly the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine, and Storage) spread throughout the country to issue phytosanitary certificates. An application form under Appendix 5 must be submitted for inspection and the phytosanitary certification.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the United Kingdom frames policies. It enforces these to protect flora and fauna of the country from invasive or destructive species.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency or APHA is the executive body on matters relating to imports or exports of plants, food items, etc., to the United Kingdom.
All importers and exporters have to register in the dedicated portal of APHA, known as PEACH (Procedure for Electronic Application for Certificates from the Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate), and get a unique business identification number before they can apply for a phytosanitary certificate.
Fumigation Charges in Shipping
The charges for fumigation vary from company to company and depend on the type of fumigation, the pesticide used, and whether fumigation is to be done for an empty shipping container, a full container load of cargo, or a less-than-container load. The average rates range between USD 150 to 650.
These days, plastic packing materials are used to avoid fumigation and the associated certification costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is fumigation?
Fumigation is an effective method of pest control or the removal of harmful microorganisms by filling a room or shipping container, or part of a vessel with gaseous pesticides or fumigants to suffocate and kill the pests.
2. Why is fumigation essential in the shipping industry?
Fumigation prevents the breeding of pests, which could spoil the cargo and cause epidemics. Also, special attention is paid to epidemiological protection in international shipping. Many countries like the USA, Australia and New Zealand have strict fumigation-related laws.
3. What is a fumigation certificate in shipping?
A fumigation certificate is issued by a licencing authority. It establishes that the concerned party has adequately fumigated the shipment and the shipping materials. All nations that require such a certificate do not clear a load without one.
4. Which chemicals are used in fumigation?
Usually, chemicals like Methyl Bromide, phosphate, sulfuryl fluoride, chloropicrin, dichloropropene, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde etc. are some of the commonly used pesticide gases used to fumigate containers and loose cargo loads.
5. What is the difference between disinfection and fumigation?
Disinfection is used to tackle pathogenic microorganisms and other germs on surfaces, whereas fumigation destroys pests and insects like roaches and bugs, which are carriers of diseases. While disinfection involves washing and cleaning the surfaces with liquid cleaners, fumigation is done with poisonous gases harmful to humans. Hence it should be done carefully.
You might also like to read:
- A Guide to Shipping Container Dimensions
- How Are Shipping Containers Made?
- What Are Insulated Shipping Containers?
- 10 Largest Container Shipping Companies in the World in 2021
- 16 Types of Container Units and Designs for Shipping Cargo
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Hari Menon is a Freelance writer with close to 20 years of professional experience in Logistics, Warehousing, Supply chain, and Contracts administration. An avid fitness freak, and bibliophile, he loves travelling too.