FBOs position themselves on the front lines against agroterrorism

 - October 1, 2010, 8:22 AM

During the past few years, FBOs and airports with international arrivals have been developing processes to handle what’s known as “regulated garbage.” U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Regulation 7 CFR 330.400 requires owners and operators of aircraft flying into the U.S. from other countries (except Canada) to dispose of regulated garbage in a way that protects against the introduction of foreign bacteria to the U.S. The cost of this disposal can run into hundreds of dollars, depending on how much trash is involved.

According to the regulations, garbage means “all waste material derived in whole or in part from fruits, vegetables, meats or other plant or animal (including poultry) material, and other refuse of any character whatsoever that has been associated with any such material on board any means of conveyance, and including food scraps, table refuse, galley refuse, food wrappers or packaging materials, and other waste material from stores, food preparation areas, passengers’ or crews’ quarters, dining rooms or any other areas on the means of conveyance. For purposes of this part, garbage also means meals and other food that were available for consumption by passengers and crew on an aircraft but were not consumed.”

Proper disposal of regulated garbage basically means rendering it sterile, either by heating the garbage to at least 212 degrees F for more than 30 minutes or simply incinerating it.  The USDA doesn’t care about what happens to the trash after it is sterilized.

Trash Removal and Disposal

Many FBOs contract with local companies that haul away regulated garbage, dispose of it properly and maintain records of compliance. One company that offers this service is Stericycle, headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill.

Fargo Jet Center in Fargo, N.D., has been certified by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to handle regulated garbage. Fargo Jet’s line technicians and customer service representatives have been trained to remove regulated garbage from arriving international flights, according to line service manager Jeremy Sobolik. The process involves placing the garbage into special four-mil-thickness plastic bags, then into a box provided by the company that destroys the trash. The box is marked with biohazard labels. Fargo Jet personnel label the boxes with the aircraft identification and the time when the trash was removed. The service provider must pick up the box and incinerate the contents within two days.
Fargo Jet personnel who are removing the garbage also have to carry a cleaning kit in case of a liquid spill.

Fargo Jet charges $45 per box, barely enough to cover the cost. “We’ve been doing this for almost three years,” said Sobolik. “We had a few customers frustrated with the process, but once we were able to explain it to them, it became easier. Now most of them are aware of it.”

At Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis., the airport’s management thought it might make sense to bring the sterilizing equipment to the airport, to lower costs for customers and attract more international arrivals traffic. “We’ve been working on that project for at least five years,” said airport manager Tom Miller.

At first, the plan was to install an incinerator, but a sterilizer proved to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. A year ago the airport bought a $150,000 sterilizing system from San-I-Pak of Tracy, Calif., and trained personnel at FBOs Executive Air and Titletown Jet Centre on how to use the sterilizer. The FBOs pay the airport to use the sterilizer, which is housed in its own building. The sterilizer is a gas-fired boiler that creates steam to sterilize the garbage contained in special bags that can withstand heat and pressure, according to Miller. After the heating cycle, the bags are allowed to cool, then the garbage can be disposed of in a regular trash facility. Having the sterilizer on the airport, he said, “has put us on the map as a place to enter the country. It’s worked out pretty well.”

Executive Air charges $150 for the first bag and $50 for additional bags, according to general manager Mark Jaraczewski. “It’s a good service for us. The airport wanted to increase international business, and having international trash [capability] made sense.”

Preventing Agroterrorism

There is one more wrinkle in the regulated garbage picture. It appears that the U.S. government is concerned about more than rogue bacteria leaping from an uneaten croissant into the U.S. ecosystem: it is also worried about a new threat called “agroterrorism.” According to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), “Unfortunately, our post-9/11 world includes a new and dangerous threat. This threat is agroterrorism, which targets some component of agriculture or the food supply. Examples include the intentional introduction of a plant or animal pest or disease or contamination of food materials with a toxic substance. Agricultural inspections have traditionally focused on unintentional introduction of pests or diseases–those unnoticed in someone’s luggage or hitchhiking on the walls of a container. Now we need to focus also on the deliberate introduction of these threats. With the added danger of agroterrorism, the role of the CBP agriculture specialists at our ports of entry is more crucial than ever.”