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Making History



Making Fumigation History

By Rudy Subieta, Dow Agro Sciences LLC

Fumigation history was made on January 14 and 15 when a structure measuring nearly 8 million cubic feet at the Miami International Airport was fumigated with Vikane* gas fumigant. In terms of sheer size, it was probably the largest tape-and-seal fumigation successfully completed by a single company.

The road to fumigation of this gargantuan airport facility started when engineers, doing a 40-year re-certification of the building, found evidence of an extensive drywood termite infestation in the wood ceiling. Due to the size of the building, the engineers were not sure whether a fumigation could be done. At some point, the possibility of condemning the building was considered. They contacted Jude Plummer, a Manager for Miami-Dade County, whose job is to procure pest control services for the many buildings owned by the County. After inspecting the building, Plummer determined a tape-and-seal fumigation was possible because the walls of the building were made entirely of concrete, and the roof was in relatively good condition.

Plummer contacted Dr. Rudolph Scheffrahn, of the University of Florida and Rudy Subieta of Dow Agro Sciences to confirm his views. Dr. Scheffrahn, the leading researcher of drywood termites identified the infestation as Cryptotermes brevis, a termite widely distributed in Florida. “During our inspection of the north side of the building, which was unoccupied, pellets were literally raining from the ceiling. The entire floor was blanketed with pellets making it very slippery. The termites had apparently been in the building for a long time,” says Subieta. Both Dr. Scheffrahn and Subieta agreed with Plummer that a tape-and-seal fumigation was feasible, providing gaps and cracks along the concrete walls were properly sealed and the fumigation was monitored.

Planning Begins

Jude Plummer was concerned about the coordination of such a large fumigation. A busy airline company occupied one-third of the building. It had dozens of employees with rigorous schedules. Another third was occupied by a group of 3 commercial tenants, and the last third of the building was unoccupied. Plummer wanted the job to be conducted in a professional manner, with safety being paramount in his mind. Since he attends pest control meetings he had heard of the Commitment to Excellence SM Program for fumigators. As the name implies, companies who qualify for the program make a commitment to excel. They must possess more than the basic equipment and their personnel must pass a rigorous exam to prove they have the knowledge and expertise to tackle large or complicated fumigations requiring monitoring. With the approval of his supervisor, Plummer decided to incorporate to the list of bidders, companies that had qualified for the Commitment to Excellence Program in the greater Miami area. After a lengthy bidding process, in which several companies participated, the job was awarded to AL-FLEX Exterminators of Miami.

All in the Preparation

It took a whole week to prepare the building for the fumigation. Seams along the building, where concrete walls rested on the slab – about 7,000 linear feet altogether –were inspected and gaps were sealed. Floor drains and unused toilettes were sealed. The entire surface of the flattop roof, amounting to over one-third of a city-block was systematically inspected and tarps were used to seal vents, air handlers and other elements that could potentially allow fumigant to escape. Hundreds of employees’ lockers had to be opened and individually checked to make sure there were no foods or medicinal left inside. Thousands of airline passenger pillows wrapped in plastic were removed from the site as an extra precaution, and to help with the aeration process. Around-the clock security involving several guards had to be coordinated. Alex Napoles Jr., Manager of the project for AL-FLEX, and Jude Plummer spent many hours meeting with key managers and security personnel of the building communicating the fumigation process and making certain all employees were informed of timetables.

Fumigation Day

Having completed most of the pre-fumigation preparations the week before, On Sunday, January 15, AL-FLEX personnel started a final systematic inspection of an evacuation of the entire facility. This was done in cooperation with security personnel posted strategically around the perimeter of the huge facility. While the inspection was proceeding, other AL-FLEX personnel began setting up the fumigation and monitoring equipment. Since the building consisted of three very large open sections and was not heavily compartmentalized, it was estimated that 160 portable fans would provide adequate air circulation during fumigant introduction, equilibrium and exposure. (The building also had 42 built-in exhaust fans and 7 large air handlers, but those would not be used until aeration, the following day.) Monitoring hoses were set up at 13 locations at various heights, and 15 Vikane shooting hoses were spaced-out with their respective fans. Likewise, evaporation containers for chloropicrin were distributed throughout the structure in the air stream of fans.

In the early afternoon, with all fumigation and safety equipment in place, and final inspection completed, AL-FLEX fumigators proceeded to introduce 514 ounces of warning agent calculated to provide 1 oz for every 15,000 cu feet of space. The final doors were taped and sealed and secondary-locked. After a 15-minute waiting period, fumigators started introducing Vikane at 3:15 p.m. and proceeded until 6 p.m. Total Vikane introduced was 1,862 lbs. through the 15 shooting hoses.

The extensive preparation of the building paid-off because Fumiscope readings revealed that the building had lost little Vikane 12 hours after equilibrium. The seal was almost perfect! 

Aeration and Clearance

The following afternoon, after approximately 22 hours of exposure, AL-FLEX fumigators opened the first seal in the south section of the building. Due to the vast number of doors that needed to be unsealed and opened, the process took 2 hours. By then, all 160 portable fans, plus the 42 exhaust fans and 7 air handles were deployed for aeration purposes.

Due to the fact that some airline employees needed to be back at work in the building early the following morning, AL-FLEX had made the decision to go beyond the one-hour active ventilation. They extended the active ventilation with doors opened and all fans deployed for an additional 8 hours. This would help in the aeration of chloropicrin as well, since the building had almost no windows. AL-FLEX fumigators as well as building security personnel were present during the entire aeration process. Finally, at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, AL-FLEX fumigation licensees checked the entire building with Interscan detectors. The only detectable concentration of Vikane (below 5 PPM) was found inside some of the lockers, which were further ventilated. The building was then posted for reoccupancy.

All Wrapped Up

Successful execution of a fumigation of this magnitude requires not only extensive equipment and expertise, but also methodical preparation and efficient coordination of almost an army of people. Alex Napoles Jr., who was managing this project for AL-FLEX performed this role well, thus the fumigation proceeded flawlessly. Jude Plummer, who knows first hand all the work that needs to happen behind the scenes and on the scene, was relieved when his fumigation was completed and also pleased he had chosen a Commitment to Excellence Company to make his job easier.

*Trademark of Dow AgroSciences LLC
SM Service Mark of Dow AgroSciences LLC
Vikane is federally Restricted Use Pesticide

Copyright 2006 Dow Agro Sciences. All rights reserve. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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