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Air Quality Impacts of Port Fumigation Operations


Ports that handle international cargo movements require that certain products be fumigated to ensure that pests are not transported with the cargo. Fumigation can occur at a variety of points; prior to transferring cargo to a vessel, onboard while the vessel is underway, dockside, at anchorage, or landside at a designated facility. Typically methyl bromide or metal phosphides are used as fumigants.

The IMO has developed standards for fumigation that occurs on vessels. Fumigation while at ports and along national waterways is subject to national standards (e.g., US Gain Standards Act and the Agricultural Marketing Act). Once the fumigation process has been completed, the fumigant is released into the atmosphere during the degassing phase. Currently there are no national ambient standards for methyl bromide though three states have adopted standards of 0.005 ppm. Additionally, there are no NESHAP/MACT standards for fumigation operations. Facilities that emit more than 10 tons of methyl bromide or 25 tons of any combination of regulated HAPs in the US need to have a Title V permit to operate.

Methylene bromide is a colorless, odorless toxin. According to the EPA, studies in humans indicate that the lung may be severely injured by acute (short-term) inhalation of methyl bromide. Acute and chronic (long-term) inhalation can lead to neurological health effects. There have been a number of cases where crew members were mortally poisoned during fumigation accidents. For example, in 2008 a cargo of peas were fumigated with aluminum phosphide pellets, soon after fumigation a 56-year-old seafarer with intense abdominal and chest pains, associated with dizziness, was rescued by helicopter. He lost consciousness and died of pulmonary oedema, major metabolic acidosis and acute multi organ failure. The following day, the captain issued a rescue call from the same vessel for a 41-year-old man also with abdominal pain, vomiting and dizziness. The ECG only revealed type 1 Brugada syndrome. Then 11 other seafarers were evacuated for observation. 3 showed clinical abnormalities.

Methylene bromide was banned as an ozone depleting substance, but has an exemption for manufacture and use as a fumigant.


Additional research is needed to better understand the volume of fumigants typically released, impacts on local air quality, possible exposure and impacts to community health. Identification of measures to monitor and mitigate exposure to these fumigants would also be of value in managing the risk of these activities.


Being able to assess fumigation operations that could impact adjacent communities and provide a selection of monitoring and mitigation measures that could be incorporated into Title V permits, would reduce exposure to these fumigants, improving local air quality and protecting human health.

Related Research:

No TRB documents were identified on this topic.


To better understand the use and impact of fumigants related to marine cargo shipments additional research is need. The compiled information will need to be analyzed and presented in a report that can be disseminated to interested parties.

Phase 1 – Compilation and Analysis of Marine Freight Fumigation Information

Information to be collected includes:

· Fumigation process.

· Standard Operating Procedures for fumigation.

· Relevant regulations.

· Review of available Title V permits of facilities that provide fumigation services.

· Compilation of available emission factors.

· Identification of air quality studies of fumigation operations.

· Assessment of the public’s and crew’s health effect related to fumigants used on vessels in port.

· Summary of mitigation measures to reduce emissions or exposure to fumigants.

The analysis for this task will include a summary of the fumigation process; an assessment of international, federal, state, and local regulations; from Title V permits, emission factors used in permitting, monitoring requirements, and required control devices or operational constraints to reduce emissions. If air quality studies and/or documented health cses have been developed, these too should be summarized. Lastly a comprehensive list of mitigation measures should also be generated.

*Phase 2 -Marine Cargo Fumigation Report *

The information compiled and analyzed in Phase 1 should be distilled into a report during this phase. The report should present the compiled information clearly, and include an array of meaningful tables and graphics.

The draft report should be provided to a range of external reviewers including federal and state environmental agencies, Port Authorities, and NGOs.

A final report will be developed based on the comments received from the reviewers. This report should be published as a TRB document and posted on its website.


Port authorities, trade association such as the American Association of Port Authorities, federal agencies including the U.S. EPA, OSHA, and the CDC, state environmental and health agencies, research institutes and NGOs may find the information compiled and analyzed for this project useful in addressing air quality issues.


One of the most useful aspects of this study will be the identification of monitoring technologies, control equipment and operation strategies that can be incorporated into contracts or permits that can play a critical role in reducing exposure to fumigants.

Sponsoring Committee:AW030, Marine Environment
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:Medium
RNS Developer:Richard Billings
Source Info:X. Baur, L.T. Budnik, Z. Zhao, M. Bratveit, R. Djurhuus, L. Verschoor, F. M. Rubino, C. Colosio and J.R. Jepsen, Health Risks in International Container and Bulk Cargo Transport due to Volatile Toxic Compounds, Journal of Occupational Medical Toxicology, 2015.

Grain and Feed Association, GAFTA Standard for Fumigation (version 7.0) https://www.gafta.com/write/MediaUploads/Trade%20Assurance/Gafta_Standard_for_Fumigation_WEB.PDF

ILO Code of Practice, Safety and Health in Ports, 2005 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---safework/documents/normativeinstrument/wcms_107615.pdf

IMFO, Code of Practice on Safety and efficacy for Maine Fumigation https://www.imfo.com/IMFO_Code_of_Practice.pdf

A.M. Preisser, L. T. Bdnik, X. Baur International Maritime Health, Health Effects due to Fumigated Freight Containers and good: how to detect, how to act. 2012

A, Weintrit and T. Neumann, Nautical Institute, Advances in Marine Navigation and Safety of Sea Transportation 2019
Date Posted:11/01/2020
Date Modified:01/19/2021
Index Terms:Air quality, Ports, Port operations, Fumigation, Hazardous chemicals,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Marine Transportation

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