When pests turn out to be a real nuisance, we call the 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 year after year as a result of 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 getting rid of pests from buildings, structures such as silos, containers, and merchandise.
Fumigation is also used to control weeds and fungal growth in agricultural lands and gardens. There are other methods to control pests such as by 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 coming back, shipping containers need fumigation too.
Fumigation is found to be very effective when it comes to closed spaces such as rooms and containers.
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 normally travels all over the world and as such transports pests unknowingly if these containers are not kept clean and sanitary.
How is Fumigation Carried Out?
Fumigation makes use of poisonous gases that are classed as pesticides or fumigants, to fill an entire place and suffocate the pests and kill them.
It may also be used to treat grains and other agricultural produce to kill the pests and prevent their transmission from place to place as well as the destruction of 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 has to be carried out very carefully and by certified, well-qualified pest control operators. It can be very dangerous if the operation is not performed carefully as the fumigants used are very toxic to humans, plants, and animals alike.
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 cargo can be denied entry to the country if these certificate from the proper authority is not produced.
This applies to both Less-than Container Loads (LCL) as well as 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 an important step in preventing the spread of exotic pests and weeds. Exotic pests are those that are new to a country and are often invasive species that multiply and spread rapidly if left unchecked. They pose danger to the local flora and fauna, often overrunning their habitat and exhausting their food supplies. Pests are dangerous to human beings as well, as they are often carriers of diseases.
Wooden pallets that are used in the shipping industry are a favourite breeding ground for pests. The wood used in making pallets provides a safe place for them to live in and lay eggs. The Asian gypsy moth, the Asian lady beetle, etc. are examples of pests that thrive on wooden material such as pallets.
Methods of Fumigation
The two main methods of fumigation 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 prior to closing and sealing for dispatch. This method applies to fumigation of empty containers as well as when it is fully laden.
In the LCL method, the cargo is kept separately under an airtight covering such as a tarpaulin 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 be completely rid of the fumes 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), phosphine (PH3), and sulfuryl fluoride (SO2F2), 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 is used to treat 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 common phosphine releasing agent that has a chemical formula of AlP. It is used as pellets or grains and when it comes in contact with the atmospheric moisture or water, releases phosphine. This gas has a strong and pungent smell and is highly inflammable. 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 biggest 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 human beings. 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 all over the world, pests also build up resistance against these pesticides. These days several pesticide-resistant insects and organisms are being discovered and newer chemicals have to be formulated to combat these.
Precautions During Fumigation
The personnel who are responsible for the fumigation of cargo and shipping containers should be properly 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 that are used and also be familiar with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety gear.
Any fumigation work has to be notified in advance to all employees of the organization where the fumigation will take place.
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 actual 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 the use of loading and unloading equipment such as trolleys, forklifts, or pallet jacks.
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 and hence precautions have to 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 such 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 the flora and fauna of a country.
The 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.
The ISPM No. 15 calls for the treatment of any equipment made of wood that is 6 mm or more in thickness to rid them of such organisms and insects. Such wooden materials have to be either 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 normally 24 hours after which it has to be ventilated suitably before being released.
In heat treatment, the wooden pallets are made to withstand temperatures of up to 56° C for about 30 minutes. The heat destroys all pests, their eggs, and fungal growths. This is the most environment-friendly method of pest control as there are no chemicals involved.
Treated wooden materials are normally 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 authorized organization to which the certificate is issued
- Description, number of packages, and other details of the cargo
- The name of the fumigant that has been used to treat the cargo 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 while the latter is issued by authorized governmental bodies confirming that the cargo that is being exported has been treated to rid it of pests and that banned plants or animals are not being transported with the cargo.
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 require 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 who 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 is required to be submitted for inspection and getting the phytosanitary certificate.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the United Kingdom frames policies and enforces these to protect the 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 also depend on the type of fumigation, the pesticide that is 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.
Plastic packing materials are used these days to avoid fumigation and the associated certification costs.
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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