Export Log Fumigations

02/2022 Issue: Export Log Fumigations

By: Kyle Libby


Export timber fumigation is a key process that gets rid of wood destroying pests and decontaminates the timbers at high dosage rates. This process ensures raw timbers and wood products arrive pest-free after their long journey from one country to the another.  This process mitigates the risk of invasive pests arriving in a destination country.  Global trade can dramatically affect eco-systems when a pest is introduced without any predators.  The balance is disrupted and can cause significant ecological and economic impact.  Think about the Ash trees destroyed by the Emerald Ash Borer.  There was and estimated 8 billion ash trees in the US.  Most of which will be destroyed.  The total value of those ash trees is approximately $282 billion dollars and an annual revenue loss of $25 billion dollars in harvested timber. The loss extends beyond the economic and environmental impact.  There are measurable effects on forest health, birds, insects and even air quality for humans since trees have an big impact on the quality of air we breathe.

The process of fumigation is complex.  It involves extensive training in the fumigant properties, use and safety protocols for applicator and environment.  A thorough process of safe applications, exposure, readings, aeration, and documentation is key to a successful treatment. FSS, Inc. works under the USDA and is audited on all accounts so we can be sure that we meet the exporting countries fumigation requirements. Not all destinations require the same treatment process.  The first step is knowing where your logs came from and where they are headed. The USDA has a great tool that we use frequently which allows you to input the species of timber you are treating and the destination country.  This resource will generate a fumigation import permit with the required fumigation guidelines.

The most common destination for US hardwood logs is China.  China has an evolving taste for US hardwoods.  The demand for timbers is high.  Methyl bromide is currently the only approved fumigant for use on export logs.  Methyl bromide is a liquid under pressure that turns into a gas above 41 degrees.  FSS, Inc. has heated facilities located in Joliet, IL (Chicago); Columbus, OH; Westfield, IN (Indianapolis) and Corydon, IN (Louisville, KY).  These convenient locations near the point of origin for many Midwest hardwoods allow us to work year around.  They also provide many freight forwarders and logistic companies freedom to choose the most economical route to move their bookings.  Most timbers cut down in the US that are being exported overseas are loaded into a shipping container known as a “land sea container” and then brought to one of our offices for fumigation.  These containers make the process easier as the containers are gas and airtight to start so minimal sealing is required.  

Why do we fumigate in winter?  There are many reasons why logging occurs in the winter.  It’s a hot job for one, but also there are many benefits to the quality of the log and environment when harvesting occurs during cold weather.  As for fumigation of these logs, checking to make sure the timbers are at the correct temperature is a good first step.  This requires heating up the logs beforehand.  FSS uses wireless temperature sensors placed inside the container to ensure the required temperature is held for the duration of the scheduled treatment.  Next gas introduction lines and monitor lines are placed inside the container and the exterior vents are sealed.  Fans are placed in the head space of the container and run during the initial gas introduction to ensure the gas is dispersed evenly.  The methyl bromide is then applied safely from outside the container through the gas introduction lines until the recommended weight is dispensed inside.  A one hour wait time is recommended before the first initial reading is taken so you can be sure the gas has evenly dispensed into the container. Using a calibrated and approved monitoring device, an initial reading must be taken.  If the gas levels are at a satisfactory limit, then no additional gas must be added.  However, if levels are too low a ¼ amount of the initial gas weight is added to the container to bump up the concentration.  Then the reading is taken and recorded again.  Once your container of timbers has sat for the recommended amount of time under the correct gas concentration, it can now be opened and cleared before it continues on to the next phase of the journey.  Only trained, equipped, and licensed applicators are allowed to fumigate and clear treated timbers.  The correct materials, gas monitoring and safety equipment must always be used.

Most people do not think of fumigation as an essential service, but many goods received into and exported out of the US see fumigation at some point.  Conducting safe and effective treatments is something FSS has been doing for 40 years.  If you have other questions on how fumigation can be the right treatment method to protect your commodity, facility, brand or the health and safety of countries and consumers, contact a qualified representative at FSS, Inc. today.