What Are the Dangers of Fumigation?

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What Are the Dangers of Fumigation?
Fumigation is used in grain storage bins to control insect pests. (grain storage bins image by Joyce Wilkes from Fotolia.com)

Fumigants releases toxic chemicals in gaseous state into an area to kill unwanted organisms such as plant pathogens and insect pests. They are used in agriculture to treat soil and structures, in pest control measures for homes and industries, and in import/export activities to prevent spread of harmful pests. Chemicals used for fumigation include methyl bromide, sulfonyl fluoride or Vikane, phosphines, metam sodium or Vapam, metam potassium or Telone, and chloropicrin or tear gas.

Dangers to Applicators

Fumigation can only be done by trained, certified persons. All fumigants are dangerous chemicals that have harmful or lethal effects. Great care must be taken in applying them, containing them and disposing of them after fumigation. Breathing gases can cause severe injury or death, depending on the chemical being used. Applicators are at risk due to possibility of accidents and to the possibility of exposure to small amounts of chemicals over time, which can build up to symptomatic conditions. A yearly physical is recommended for those who use fumigants regularly.

Dangers to Homeowners

In home fumigation, consumers should follow the licensed applicator's instructions carefully. Never enter a structure or area with warning signs posted of an ongoing fumigation. Vikane is used for home fumigation, with chloropicrin added to warn of its presence. Vikane can kill houseplants and pets, so every live thing should be removed, even from porches and patios. The fluoride in Vikane will bind to foodstuffs. To prevent excess fluoride ingestion, all foods not in sealed glass or cans are removed or double-bagged in special Nylofume plastic bags. Water an 18-inch strip of soil next to the house to protect the roots of plants living near the house. Trim plants that touch the house to 12 inches away from the house so the protective covering or tent will fit properly to prevent damage and gas leakage.

Dangers to Neighbors

Tenting procedures confine fumigants to the home being treated. However, pets can be vulnerable if they visit neighbouring homes. Restrict pets from hiding under porches or inside nearby homes before they are fumigated.

Dangers of Phosphine Fumigants

Phosphines are used for agricultural product fumigation and rodent control. Phosphines can react violently when exposed to water or air, causing explosions and flash fires. Firefighters need to be aware of phosphine presence when responding to such emergencies. Phospine turns to an acid in the lungs and destroys the tissues.

Dangers from Weather

Delay fumigation in windy weather. Tents or covers necessary for fumigant retention can be damaged. Rain also affects fumigant application negatively. Cold weather retards the spread and penetration of some fumigants, so treatment may not be effective. At high temperatures, fumigants vaporise faster and may not kill pests. Generally, temperatures should be between 15.6 and 26.7 degrees Celsius.

Dangers to the Environment

Methyl bromide is implicated in ozone depletion. Fumigants can leak or drift and cause contaminated air, demonstrated by Telone in areas of California. Groundwater can also become contaminated.

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