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Friday, November 4, 2011

IFQRG, Port Botany, AQIS...and Giant Snails

As I mentioned before, the primary purpose of my trip to Australia was to speak to the members of the International Forestry Quarantine Research Group on the work we're conducting on various phytosanitary treatment of wooden pallets. For those unfamiliar with this issue, here it is in a nutshell:

Countries around the world have agencies dedicated to the attempt to stop, or at least slow, the transfer of non-native plant and animal pest species from one country to another. Pests and diseases caused by them, such as Chestnut blight, Dutch Elm disease, gypsy moths, Emerald Ash borer, Asian Long-horned beetles, Pinewood nematodes, and many, many others are all pests that came into this country at one time or another, usually in the importation of commercial goods, or the transplanting of non-native nursery stock. Pest scientists have dedicated the last century to helping governments identify these potential pests and putting in place treatment and quarantine measures to help reduce their movement in the world. The big danger is, of course, another uncontrollable epidemic that wipes out a whole species from a continent, such as when American Chestnut was wiped from the North American forest.

In 2002, at the advice of the newly-formed IFQRG, a new international standard was adopted to help slow the transfer of forest pests. Known by its acronym ISPM-15, this standard provided guidance to countries on  the treatment of wooden pallets and packaging materials. Two methods were approved for use in the original standard, heat treatment and fumigation with methyl bromide. However, methyl bromide was targeted for elimination by the international document known as the Montreal Protocol, and was mandated for phase-out in the United States by the Clean Air Act. Therefore, heat treatment of wooden pallets and containers, as well as logs, lumber, chips, and other wood products, has been by far the most common implementation of ISPM-15 around the world.

Here at Penn State we are conducting research into the environmental and economic impact of various phytosanitary treatments, including heat treatment, methyl bromide, and alternatives, such as pallets made of plastic and other materials. We're also working with other researchers in the U.S. and Canada to develop new alternative treatments involving the use of radio-frequency drying techniques. John Janowiak and I from Penn State attended the IRQRG meeting in Canberra to update and discuss with the assembled group our findings. In particular, we went to support the approval of a guidance on microwave treatment as an alternative to traditional heat treatment.

OK, that was a pretty big nutshell. I shared it as a backdrop for the story I'm about to relate on my visit to AQIS, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, at their Sydney headquarters. Dr. David Nehl, Regional Program Manager of Operational Sciences in the Central East Region of AQIS, was my host and tour guide for the day. We first visited the Port of Sydney, at the area where AQIS does its inspection work. The Port Botany area, as it is called, is being expanded, and the video below is a pretty interesting presentation on how that is being conducted.

PBE Update December 2010 from Sydney Ports Corporation on Vimeo.

At the port, I was just in time to watch a container being inspected. The inspection regime in Australia is that thirty percent of the shipments headed for urban destinations, and one hundred percent of the shipments headed for locations out in the rural areas, are inspected. A higher focus is placed on those rural shipments because of the higher probability of any pest damage that could occur should the pest be transported into areas where it would be easily introduced into the native biospheres and farms.
In these first two pictures, we see AQIS inspectors observing while an incoming container is opened, and checking it for traces of fumigation. The container is opened, the load is given a visual check to identify any "red flags" that the inspectors might see, and any wooden pallets or containers in the load are checked to ensure they carry the ISPM-15 stamp. For those pallets and crates that can't be seen, the paperwork is checked to confirm that they were listed as ISPM-15 certified at the port of lading.

As I turned around from this container inspection, I spied these rather large tires. Dr. Nehl explained to me that tires like these can carry mosquitoes and other nasty species of bugs, and they all get fumigated.

This shot gave me new insight on the global import business, and the wood packaging issues we in the wood industry don't usually think of. Here's a great old cycle that someone is going to restore...and we can assume the seller either built the crate himself or had one built locally, not necessarily by a certified pallet/container manufacturer. Fumigation!

 Here's a typical load that the inspectors tag for quarantine and fumigation...randomly packed and stacked boxes, non-treated wood packaging, the works. This load has passed quarantine and is ready to move on.
Aha! What do we have here? Looks like a cross-section piece of a softwood species, possibly with some stain on the cambium layer, wrapped in a vinyl sack. These are popular with the Asian population of Sydney to produce cutting boards and other useful things from. AQIS inspectors find lots of these trying to sneak through in their nondescript packaging. Fumigation!
Here's a nice wooden crate with IPPC stamps all over it.
The on-site fumigation chambers. Fumigations requested by AQIS are carried out by approved third-party sub-contractors, who stay pretty busy from what I could tell.
Some imports require more than fumigation. Here's a nice El Camino (1968, maybe? Any El Camino experts out there?) being spray-washed, and I mean thoroughly. These guys were washing the undercarriage of the car to get off any road soil that might transport an unwanted pest onto the backroads of the great Australian countryside. The soil is then washed into a water treatment facility before being discharged into the bay.

Too many other great port shots to share here....

 But back at the lab, Dr. Nehl introduced me to many of his staff, and showed me the work that comes in from all over the country. His lab is where hard-to-identify insect samples are sent for the AQIS entomologists to have fun with. And to collect. This tray is one of about two hundred, I would guess, that lined one wall in the lab, filled with different dead bugs. This is one part of the trip that I thought our Penn State College of Ag Sciences dean, Bruce McPheron, would have loved to share with me. He's a big bug guy.
 This was a great example of a furniture piece that was obviously made from less-than-dry wood. You can see the hundreds of beetle holes that were left when larvae in the tree emerged sometime after the table leg, or post, was turned, carved, finished, and shipped.  The inspectors probably noticed the piece upon inspection of a warm container where the nice little wood beetles were incubated and born.
Well, every visit has at least one "most memorable" image, and this bad boy was it for me at AQIS. They told me the scientific name of this giant snail, but I don't remember it...I was lost in a vision of being slowly and slimily devoured by this thing. Apparently they're common in south east Asia, and down as far as Java, and he hitchhiked to Sydney with air cargo. I don't know how much they can eat, but I bet they sure slime up everything in sight. I can understand why they're trying to keep these guys away. Probably make a pretty good steak, though.

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