Methyl bromide illnesses a first, CDC says

07/15/2011 09:24:00 AM
Chris Koger

Two produce inspectors exposed to methyl bromide over several months in a Carson, Calif., cold storage facility developed disabling neurological ailments, federal health officials say.

The illnesses, from 2010, were the first in the U.S. caused by methyl bromide exposure in a produce storage area distant from where the fumigant was applied, according to the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It was applied to grapes imported from Chile through the Port of Long Beach. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires methyl bromide fumigation to prevent infestation by the Chilean false red mite.

The Carson facility, unnamed in the report, is 6 miles from the port.

The inspectors — both men, ages 22 and 52 — complained of symptoms that included difficulty walking, dizziness and impaired memory, speech or vision. They were found to have elevated serum bromide levels.

The CDC said some measurements of single-instant methyl bromide levels in confined spaces at the Carson facility exceeded eight-hour exposure limits.

The report advises similar facilities to consider increased aeration time, reduced postfumigation exposure, reduction of packaging materials that might absorb methyl bromide or hinder aeration, and changes in pallet stacking to improve airflow. Companies should warn workers of potential health risks, the report says.

Investigators found that the Port of Long Beach had aerated fumigated grapes according to USDA standards.

Both inspectors told investigators their working conditions in Carson were unusual. They said they were required to work inside the refrigerated area, while elsewhere they had typically worked outside.

The 22-year old was a quality inspector at an unnamed wholesale produce shipping company. The older man was an independently contracted quality inspector. Later that year, both said they felt fully recovered. The 52-year-old returned to inspection work, while the younger man went to graduate school.

In April 2010, the Port extended aeration time from four to nine hours to reduce concentrations in semitrailer loads. Nevertheless, investigators testing shipments on arrival in Carson and 215 miles away in Tulare County found methyl bromide levels higher than had been sampled while the trailers were still at the port of entry.

“(O)ffgassing of the fumigant from the produce caused levels to increase to potentially hazardous concentrations,” according to the CDC report.

Ventilation seemed to reduce that risk, but the findings underscore that levels can rise or fall unexpectedly.



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Phil Henry    
Central Coast  |  July, 15, 2011 at 03:36 PM

Sadly, this will reinforce some people's negative thinking about MB soil fumigation, though there is no correlation whatsoever. Cannot compare soil fumigation, under tarp, with no crop present with post harvest fumigation.

robert korstanje    
Michigan  |  July, 19, 2011 at 03:07 PM

Methyl Bromide has been banned for over 20 years by many countries and for many applications. Reading the story and its use, it reconfirms that the applications require very close verification or even better, to avoid the direct contact with fruit and vegetables all together.

kevin Callaway    
Texas  |  July, 12, 2012 at 01:58 PM

Methylene Bromide is a powerful mutagen, terrible poison, and ozone depleting chemical that should be outlawed worldwide now. Companies that use this chemical should be held criminally responsible for damages that result to humans, animals, and the environment. No excuse for this chemicals use...50X more damaging to the atmosphere than THE most damaging chlorofluorocarbons. Stop now or pay later. Good info is available on The EPA Website.

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