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Public warned not to touch fumigant canisters

Tuesday, 1 October 2013 12:46 p.m.

Residents have been warned not to touch any metal canisters of a dangerous fumigant which has washed overboard from a cargo ship about 200 kilometres offshore from Opotiki.

The MV Gladiator was en route from Napier to China in rough seas last Wednesday night, and a box containing 14 flasks of aluminium phosphide (ALP) washed overboard. Each flask, which contains the chemical used for treating wood products, weighs 1.5Kg and has a red and white label.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Manager, Maritime Operations Reuben Fraser said there was only a small chance that the canisters had entered the Bay of Plenty’s waters, as prevailing currents and winds were likely to take them further out to sea, however residents need to be aware that they could wash up on Bay beaches.

The chemical generates toxic phosphine gas in contact with air or moisture, and could burst into flame. Anyone finding the 1.5 kg canisters should not open them and report them to the Regional Council’s Pollution Hotline 0800 884 883.

“This is a highly toxic substance, so people should not try to pick it up or open it,” he said. “With school holidays this week it’s vital that parents warn children playing on the beach not to touch the canisters, since they are small enough to attract children’s interest.”

People exposed to even low levels of the chemical will feel ill and it can also cause ringing in the ears, fatigue, nausea and pressure in the chest. High concentrations can be fatal. The chemical can irritate skin and eyes and it is toxic if swallowed.

Mr Fraser said the Regional Council was only notified this morning about the loss of the canisters. The box of canisters had been placed in the ship’s storeroom, but the door was left open when the ship sailed, and during rough weather water washed into the storeroom, washing the flasks and other items into the sea.

“ALP is safe in the flask and is very difficult to open. If the flasks wash up we will collect and dispose of them,” he said.

Ends

Q & A – aluminium phosphide canisters

Q.  What is aluminium phosphide?

A. It’s a chemical used for treating wood products. Aluminium phosphide generates toxic phosphine gas when it contacts air or moisture, and it could also burst into flame.

Q. What do the canisters look like?

A. They are metal flasks weighing 1.5kg, with a white and red ‘dangerous poison’ label saying ‘Genfume AP’. The labels may well have come off in the water. The flasks will be difficult to open, but may have been damaged at sea.

Q. What should we do if we find any?

Don’t touch them, in case the canisters have been damaged. Report them to the Regional Council’s Pollution Hotline 0800 884 883. The Regional Council will collect and dispose of them safely.

Q. Is it likely they will end up on Bay of Plenty beaches?

There’s only a small chance that any will have reached our waters. Prevailing currents and winds were likely to take them further out to sea, however residents need to be aware that they could wash up on Bay beaches.

Q. What effects does this chemical have?

People exposed to even low levels of the chemical will feel ill and it can also cause ringing in the ears, fatigue, nausea and pressure in the chest. High concentrations can be fatal. The chemical can irritate skin and eyes and it is toxic if swallowed.

Download a high res version of this photo.

Fumigant canister small