Containers slowed in Canada by formaldehyde inspections
Some containers are being delayed for weeks at Canadian ports because of a program for Canadian customs inspectors to test containers for the presence of potentially harmful chemicals including formaldehyde.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) — Canada's equivalent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — enhanced a program to test containers for unhealthy levels of fumigants and solvents before workers entered containers or devanned cargo for inspection about two years ago.
The agency originally screened for a handful of chemicals — the three fumigants methyl bromide, sulfuryl fluoride and phosphine, as well as the solvents toluene and benzene. If high levels of chemicals are present, the containers must be ventilated and retested until levels are acceptable.
In June it added formaldehyde to that list of chemicals, and that change has had a dramatic effect on the number of containers being retained at ports for extended periods.
Ruth Snowden, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), estimates that Canada customs inspects 3 percent of containers, and prior to June, only about 7 percent of those 3 percent were being flagged for high level of fumigants.
When formaldehyde was added to the list on June 12, she said the number of containers needing to be ventilated and reinspected skyrocketed to nearly all of the 3 percent chosen for inspection. Many repeatedly fail the inspection, she said.
Snowden said her group has been unable to find out what the acceptable formaldehyde level is, but said the chemical is omnipresent — emanating from glue of wood floors in containers, from cardboard boxes, furniture, shoes, and fabrics, for example.
She said it is difficult for levels of the fumes to be brought down to acceptable levels merely by opening the doors and ventilating them with fans, and containers can not be offloaded and that is not being done because workers are able enter the containers.
Patrick Bohan, manager of business development at the Port of Halifax, said the time needed for containers targeted for inspection has climbed from about one week to three weeks. He agreed with Snowden’s estimate of more than 70 boxes queued up for inspections by Canadian customs.
Bohan said the port is supportive of CBSA’s program to inspect containers, but said, “We are concerned with any delays that happen at the port.”
CIFFA, the Shipping Federation of Canada, and Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters complained in a letter to CBSA dated July 15 that at that time backlogs were more than eight days in Halifax, 10 days in Vancouver and 14 days in Prince Rupert.
“Canadian import capabilities are being severely compromised,” the three groups said in their letter to Greta Bossenmaier, executive vice president of CBSA.
Snowden said that unfortunately, some of the businesses hit by the problem are new businesses, because they are more likely to be targeted by CBSA to have their cargo inspected.
CBSA could not provide a list of the number of containers currently waiting for inspections at ports around Canada.
A letter from Kimber Johnston, vice president of the agency’s enforcement branch and Barbara Hebert, vice president of its operations branch said the agency “acknowledges, the marine container examination backlog that has resulted from a safety study assessing the level of risk of harmful vapors to our employees involved in the examination of fumigated marine containers.”
CBSA plans to hold meeting July 30 with the “Border Commercial Consultative Committee” that has a broad membership of shippers and companies involved in the transportation industry. ' Chris Dupin