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High frequency of fumigants and other toxic gases in imported freight containers—an underestimated occupational and community health risk
  1. Xaver Baur1,
  2. Bernd Poschadel1,
  3. Lygia Therese Budnik2
  1. 1ZfAM (Institute for Occupation University Medical Center, Hamburg-Eppendorf), Hamburg, Germany
  2. 2Department of Occupational Toxicology and Molecular Biology, Institute for Occupational and Maritime Medicine, Hamburg, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Professor Xaver Baur, ZfAM (Institute for Occupational and Maritime Medicine), University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, ZfAM, Seewartenstrasse 10, Hamburg 20459, Germany; baur{at}


Residues of pesticide fumigants and toxic industrial chemicals in freight containers represent a health hazard to employees and consumers, especially since freight containers are sealed for transport and distributed widely throughout the importing countries before being opened for unloading.

We investigated 2113 freight containers arriving at the second largest container terminal in Europe, Hamburg, Germany, over a 10-week period in 2006. The countries of origin, type of contents and the pesticide fumigation history declared on labels attached to the container were recorded.

We determined that 1478 (70%) containers were contaminated with toxic chemicals above chronic reference exposure levels; 761 (36%) even exceeded the higher acute reference exposure level thresholds. Benzene and/or formaldehyde contamination was 4-times greater than for fumigants.

Our findings indicate a health risk for dockworkers, container unloaders and even end-consumers, especially as many of the cancerogenic or toxic gases elude subjective detection.

  • Benzene
  • bromomethane
  • hydrogen phosphide
  • pesticides
  • hygiene/occupational hygiene
  • occupational health practices, respiratory, environment, international occupational health

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.