Testing and Ventilation of Marine Containers

Marine shipping containers are used internationally as the primary means to transport a variety of goods throughout the world. Trade companies using shipping containers for the transport of goods will rely on chemical fumigants to ensure the successful delivery of their goods. Chemical fumigants are widely used in the shipping industry as agents to kill invasive alien species in cargo loads, preserve cargo, and maximize shipping techniques. These chemicals can be harmful to human health if precautionary measures are not followed.

Health and safety of CBSA employees

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) currently manages a hazard prevention program designed to address the health and safety risks of employees who may come into contact with common toxic industrial chemicals during the course of their regular duties.

The CBSA remains committed to eliminating, by reducing to safe levels, any exposure of chemicals to its employees. The Canada Labor Code, section 10.19, requires employees to be kept free from exposure to chemical agents. The levels of exposure are determined by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH®), which is a scientific organization that determines Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and exposure limits to certain hazardous chemicals. Health Canada was consulted in the determination of the most effective means to identify and eliminate hazards for CBSA employees.

Part of CBSA's mandate is to facilitate the free flow of commercial goods while maintaining the safety and security of the public as well as its' employees. This has been accomplished through the improvements made to procedures and technology.


The CBSA requires that all marine containers are tested for fumigants at the marine container examination facilities (CEFs) prior to offloading the goods.

Containers selected for a dockside, or pier, examination do not require testing for fumigants. The containers can be opened and visually inspected without the use of respiratory protection as long as the border services officers do not enter the container.

After much research and analysis, the CBSA purchased and deployed, to all CEFs, a piece of detection technology called the SYFT Voice200™.  This unit is a mass spectrometry device that is able to conduct the testing for all common toxic industrial chemicals in approximately two minutes. Since the inception of the SYFT units, the CBSA has identified additional hazardous chemicals present within the marine containers to bring the testing to a total of 10 hazardous fumigants and solvents:

In order to address the increased number of ventilations required at the CEF, the CBSA has chosen a ventilation system for national deployment. The Nordiko™ Gas Extraction Unit is a piece of equipment used to ventilate containers contaminated by fumigants and/or solvents. These Gas-Extraction Units are designed to force clean air into containers, thereby forcing the contaminated air out. The deployment of this ventilation technology has reduced ventilation times by increasing the efficiency of the ventilation process.

CBSA scientists continue to test and refine technical procedures as the CBSA learns more about this evolving health and safety situation.

Wait times

The numerous and extensive studies conducted by the CBSA concluded that the time required for effective ventilation is a maximum of three days. The CBSA is committed to service standards and will ensure marine containers do not remain within the CBSA fumigant (ventilation) process for extended periods of time.

The CBSA will strive to conduct a marine container examination within 24 hours. The time will be calculated from the moment the CBSA begins the examination until the examination is completed and goods are made available for warehouse workers to reload the containers. This is detailed in the service standards.

The CBSA recognizes that the testing and ventilation of containers could cause delays with the movement of containers and is continually researching potential improvements, while still ensuring the health and safety of our employees.

Costs for testing and ventilation

The CBSA has made a significant investment in research and technology used for fumigant testing and ventilation. It remains committed to research and development as technologies advance. The costs associated with testing marine containers at the CEFs falls solely on the CBSA.

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