Vol 72, No 3 (2021)
Review article
Published online: 2021-09-29

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Fumigation on bulk cargo ships: a chemical threat to seafarers

Rune Djurhuus1
Pubmed: 34604991
IMH 2021;72(3):206-216.


Fumigation is a process that is carried out to prevent deterioration of goods by pests and spread of unwanted organisms for example during long-distance carriage by sea. Several intoxications due to use of pesticides on bulk cargo ships have been indicated, but for some of these incidents the documentation are questionable. The objective of the present study was therefore to examine the extent of the problem by collecting available information of incidents or intoxications due to use of pesticides on bulk cargo ships. Information sources such as PubMed, Google Scholar, Gard (marine insurance company), Marine Accident Investigation Branch, United Kingdom, and Professional Mariner (a magazine) were searched using similar search phrases.
The results indicate that the present practice of fumigation with pesticides of cargo holds on bulk ships represents a serious health risk to both seafarers and port workers. A thorough search for information in both scientific and non-scientific sources revealed a number of intoxications including several fatalities. According to the available documentation, phosphine seems to be used more or less exclusively as fumigant on bulk cargo ships today. Phosphine has a high acute toxicity, and recent findings suggest long-term effects. Several of the reported incidents point to lack of knowledge and neglecting of recommended procedures as key elements in this respect. The problem is likely underestimated due to lack of available documentation of several incidents. Preventive actions should be implemented that focus on documentation of incidents, increase knowledge of pesticide health hazard and implementation of safety procedures that are mandatory to perform when fumigated cargo is to be handled on bulk ships.

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