9 Things You Didn’t Know About Fumigants and Fumigation Treatments
Fumigants are small, volatile molecules that become gases at a relatively low temperature, or chemicals that react to produce such a gas used for fumigation in order to control and eliminate pests like insects, mites, nematodes, pathogens in hard-to-reach areas that can cause harm to structures, soil-grown crops, stored commodities and are a threat to the health of humans and animals alike.
During the fumigation process, specialized equipment like big tarps, portable ventilation fans, flexible ducts, duct clamps and centrifugal blowers are used.
Here are 9 things you probably didn’t know about fumigants:
#1 Fumigants may be odorless and usually cannot be seen
People often mistake smokes, fogs, mists and other aerosols for fumigants, but we call fumigants to the gases with pesticidal action that when used in high enough concentration can kill insects and other pests are is often reserved for pests that live in hard-to-reach areas such as soil, stored grain or wood.
#2 Fumigants can penetrate even seemingly solid items like brick, concrete and wood
These items are not as solid as they appear. In a magnified view, it is possible to see the molecules of wood and the spaces between them. Fumigant molecules actually move between the wood molecules to reach the pests. Because fumigants penetrate so well, they must be confined in an enclosed space. As soon as a fumigant escapes from an enclosure, its effectiveness is lost.
#3 Fumigation is only one option of an integral pest management program
Due to the specialization, toxicity and cost associated with the process, fumigation should be the last resort to a pest problem when other options are available. Fumigation and other control methods often provide good to excellent control temporarily. However, if you want consistent, reliable, long-term pest control, the most effective solution is an Integrated Pest Management.
#4 Most fumigants, when used properly do not leave residues on surfaces
Fumigants do not remain in the space used after fumigation, the completely dissipate, leaving no residues behind. After the fumigation process is completed, portable ventilation fans and flexible ducts are used to help the gas escape into the atmosphere and leftover residues are not expected to remain on surfaces. There are cases where portable ventilation fans known as typhoon blowers can be used in harder to reach areas.
#5 The most common fumigant used in the U.S. is Sulfuryl Fluoride
Originally developed by the Dow Chemical Company, sulfuryl fluoride is a colorless, odorless, and highly toxic gas used to fumigate buildings and some stored agricultural products as it is very effective controlling a wide range of pests including bed bugs, termites, rats and mice. Due to its odorless nature, the gas is usually used along chloropicrin, as an indicator and repellent for structural fumigations. The application of sulfuryl fluoride always requires an aeration period using fans, ventilators and ducting installed prior to when the fumigation takes effect.
#6 Most soil fumigants are labeled for use only as pre-plant (before planting) treatments
Soil fumigation uses fumigant formulations that volatilize from a liquid or solid state into a gas state and are used before planting because treatments made at planting or soon after would be toxic to the seeds and transplants. The fumigants are applied to the soil as liquefied gases, volatile liquids, or granules. Soil pests are killed when they come in contact with a toxic concentration for a long enough exposure period. Aeration may be necessary at the end of the fumigation but in this case ventilation such as portable ventilation fans, centrifugal blowers or flexible HVAC ducts are not used.
#7 The “Airing Out” (aeration) phase is as important as the first step (fumigation)
After the proper exposure period to the fumigant, the fumigation specialists will initiate aeration (airing out) by turning on strategically placed portable fans and opening flexible ducting installed for airing out the structure. Procedures for aeration vary with the fumigant, the item or type of soil treated and the conditions in the treatment area.
During the aeration period, ducts connect to the ventilator through a strap system and the strategic placement of the portable fans inside the structure draw fresh air through inlets placed in the tarpaulins which aerates the fumigant and the chloropicrin warning agent through ducting. Following tarp removal, the structure is tested for final clearance and certified for re-entry.
#8 The fumigant Sulfuryl Fluoride is not likely to contribute to the development of cancer
In long-term studies, animals breathed concentrations of 80 parts per million or more of sulfuryl fluoride six hours per day, five days a week for more than a year and there was no evidence that exposure led to the development of cancer. Other studies found that sulfuryl fluoride does not alter or damage genes so the EPA classifies the gas as not likely to cause cancer in humans.
#9 Sulfuryl Fluoride is practically non-reactive in the atmosphere.
When released into the atmosphere, the gas rapidly spreads out and is estimated to be around for four to five years but once released, sulfuryl fluoride is not readily taken up by clouds, rain, fresh water, or land-based plants. In water, sulfuryl fluoride is rapidly broken down; the reported half-live of the gas in water ranges from about 10 minutes to three days. As a non-reactive gas, it does not destroy ozone and has replaced many uses of the fumigant methyl bromide, a classified “Class I Ozone Depleting Substance” the EPA.
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