By Leo Ryan, AJOTMarine shipping circles, freight forwarders and exporters and importers in Canada are up in arms over a recent decision by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to test containers at Canadian ports for formaldehyde content. Taken without prior notification of the trading community, the decision announced in mid-June has resulted in substantial delays - with shipments via the Port of Halifax being particularly hard hit through backlogs extending several weeks. There has been limited impact, so far, at Canada’s other container ports, namely Montreal, Vancouver, and Prince Rupert. “The decision has blindsided everybody,” remarked James Moram, director of marine administration at the Montreal-based Shipping Federation of Canada. “There has to be a system for testing and ventilating containers very quickly.” He noted in this regard that a similar inspecting process was being applied in Australia, but it was much more efficient and not causing substantial delays. “The ventilation process should take just a few hours and not days,” said Rick Bryant, president of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia. “It’s an intolerable situation that is a big issue at our Liner Committee.” “We are being flooded with phone calls from frustrated importers,” said Chris Gillespie, president of Gillespie-Munro, Inc., a leading Canadian freight forwarder. Some importers were reportedly threatening to switch their shipments to US ports. The Shipping Federation of Canada, the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) and the Association of Canadian Importers and Exporters have sent a joint letter to Greta Bossenmaier, CBSA executive vice-president, underlining “the serious negative circumstances of recent actions taken by the CBSA” and calling on the agency to rescind its decision. The joint letter deplores a situation where “confusion and misinformation reign. Neither carrier, freight forwarder, customs broker, nor cartage company can provide accurate information to the importer as to when an identified container will be inspected.” “Because the CSBA is not adequately resourced to handle proper ventilation, we are experiencing additional delays of up to three weeks,” the letter said. It also pointed out that Canadian export containers identified for inspection have also been delayed – in one instance by five sailing rotations. The level of formaldehyde deemed safe by the CBSA on instructions from Health Canada has been defined as 0.15 parts per million. “We are trying to find out what that really means,” said Moram. On June 12, CBSA officers began testing marine containers pulled for inspection for the presence of formaldehyde in addition to five other chemicals for which the agency was already conducting testing. The CBSA stated: “Since chemical fumigants are widely used in the shipping industry to kill invasive alien species in cargo loads, the CBSA was directed by Human Resources and Social Development Canada to develop protective measures in order to minimize the risk to our employees as a result of exposure to solvents and various fumigants.” The industry letter counters that, “…the containers which are testing positive have not been ‘fumigated’ at origin, do not bear ‘fumigation’ marks and so cannot have abnormally high levels of formaldehyde due to fumigation.”