Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issues reminder on safe use of aluminium phosphide fumigants

High levels of phosphine gas have recently been detected in grain consignments at the Port of Brisbane. According to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, this indicates incorrect use of aluminium phosphide fumigants.

If manufacturer’s directions are not followed, the chemical can be harmful to users as well as those who transport or store the grain as it is toxic when breathed in at concentrations approaching or exceeding the workplace exposure standard of 0.3ppm time-weighted average over an 8-hour work day or 1ppm as a 15-minute short term exposure limit.

Some early symptoms of exposure may include respiratory problems, including coughing; double vision, dizziness and headaches; fatigue; and gastrointestinal disturbances such as pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

Exposure to high levels of phosphine gas can potentially damage the liver, heart, kidneys, and can cause pulmonary oedema, convulsions, and death. As the gas is heavier than air, hazardous concentrations can develop fast in enclosed, poorly ventilated or low-lying areas.

Farmers can use aluminium phosphide on their properties without fumigation licence but Workplace Health and Safety Queensland advises that once removed from the property, fumigation should only be done by a licensed pest management technician.

“Where last-minute detections of stored-grain insects are identified, you should not attempt to reduce fumigation timeframes. Reduced timeframes and the practice of applying fumigants in poorly sealed containers, such as a semi or B-double trailer covered with a tarpaulin, will not effectively control insects and will aid in insect resistance to the chemicals. It will also create a serious risk to humans from any remaining phosphine gas,” Workplace Health and Safety Queensland advised.

The agency offers the following advice to reduce the risk associated with using aluminium phosphide as a fumigant:

  • use aluminium phosphide in accordance with the product label, which includes information on the fumigation, ventilation and re-entry periods
  • have licensed pest management technicians fumigate products that have left the farm
  • maintain records of fumigation and ventilation periods for commodities
  • do not transport commodities during the fumigation and/or ventilation periods specified on the label
  • develop and implement safe work procedures to manage deliveries where fumigation and ventilation periods may not have been adhered to or where phosphine concentrations may exceed the exposure standard
  • have equipment available and calibrated to measure the concentration of phosphine
  • adopt best practice pest management (see such as continual monitoring for live insects during storage.

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