Airborne Fumigants and Residual Chemicals in Shipping Containers Arriving in New Zealand

2021-10-18

Background: Airborne fumigants and other hazardous chemicals inside unopened shipping containers may pose a risk to workers handling containers.

Methods: Grab air samples from 490 sealed containers arriving in New Zealand were analysed for fumigants and other hazardous chemicals. We also collected grab air samples of 46 containers immediately upon opening and measured the total concentration of volatile organic compounds in real-time during ventilation. Additive Mixture Values (AMV) were calculated using the New Zealand Workplace Exposure standard (WES) and ACGIH Threshold Limit Values (TLV) of the 8-h, time-weighted average (TWA) exposure limit. Regression analyses assessed associations with container characteristics. Results: Fumigants were detectable in 11.4% of sealed containers, with ethylene oxide detected most frequently (4.7%), followed by methyl bromide (3.5%). Other chemicals, mainly formaldehyde, were detected more frequently (84.7%). Fumigants and other chemicals exceeded the WES/TLV in 6.7%/7.8%, and 7.8%/20.0% of all containers, respectively. Correspondingly, they more frequently exceeded ‘1’ for the AMV-TLV compared to the AMV-WES (25.7% versus 7.8%). In samples taken upon opening of doors, fumigants were detected in both fumigated and non-fumigated containers, but detection frequencies and exceedances of the WES, TLV, and AMVs were generally higher in fumigated containers. Detection frequencies for other chemicals were similar in fumigated and non-fumigated containers, and only formaldehyde exceeded both the WES and TLV in both container groups. Volatile compounds in container air reduced rapidly during ventilation. Some cargo types (tyres; personal hygiene, beauty and medical products; stone and ceramics; metal and glass; and pet food) and countries of origin (China) were associated with elevated airborne chemical and fumigant concentrations.

Conclusion: Airborne chemicals in sealed containers frequently exceed exposure limits, both in fumigated and non-fumigated containers, and may contribute to short-term peak exposures of workers unloading or inspecting containers.

Authors: Ruth Hinz, Andrea ‘t Mannetje, Bill Glass, Dave McLean, Jeroen Douwes
; Full Source: Annals of work exposures and health 2021 Oct 18;wxab090. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxab090.