Methyl bromide treatment for pallets was banned as far back in 2005, but we’re still hearing from people this year who have received MB stamped pallets from abroad. So what is methyl bromide and what do you do with an MB stamped pallet?
What is methyl bromide and why was it banned?
Methyl bromide is a highly toxic colourless gas. It used to be widely used as a fumigant and pesticide for timber, soil and agriculture. Pallets that have been fumigated with methyl bromide are stamped with ‘MB’.
Methyl bromide fumigation was banned in Europe in 2005 because of its damaging effects on the environment (under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer). The process was also found to pose significant health threats to the operatives applying the gas treatment, as outlined by the UK Health Protection Agency (now Public Health England) in 2010:
If exposed to methyl bromide, the potential adverse health effects that may occur depend on the way people are exposed and the amount to which they are exposed. Inhalation of methyl bromide causes abdominal pain, headache, confusion, memory loss, dizziness, drowsiness, painful eyes and blurred or double vision. In severe cases, kidney and liver damage, heart problems, fits and coma may occur.
Skin contact with liquid methyl bromide can cause redness and a feeling of pins and needles. Large amounts can cause blisters and burns, which can be delayed for several hours. Methyl bromide can also be absorbed through the skin causing symptoms similar to those seen following inhalation exposure. Eye contact with methyl bromide may cause severe irritation and burns.
Note that the most significant health concerns surrounding methyl bromide treatment for pallets are for the operatives applying the treatment, who risk inhaling the gas. Whilst there may be residual traces of methyl bromide on MB stamped pallets long after treatment, the risk of emission from pallets in general circulation is “likely to be insignificant”, according to PalletLink.
Why are we still encountering MB stamped pallets?
Although methyl bromide fumigation was banned in Europe in 2005, there are still some regions that use methyl bromide to tackle pests that can’t be eliminated by heat treatments. We all know how durable pallets are too – there are still some MB stamped pallets in circulation from before the ban in Europe, tucked away and forgotten about.
Is it safe to use an MB stamped pallet?
Our advice is that whilst the residual risk of handling just one pallet may be slim, we would not use MB stamped pallets for craft projects and we would never burn these pallets on a fire.
If you are a company receiving goods in on MB pallets then we would suggest that you carry out a site-specific risk assessment and decide whether the risk to health is significant, based on your own circumstances and the frequency of exposure. You could also talk to your suppliers about whether they can dispense with MB treatment and go for heat treatment instead.
If you’d like to know more about pallet markings in general, take a look at our quick and easy visual guide to pallet markings.