At ports from Virginia to Maine, a federal "strike force" is conducting three days of sweeping truck inspections in a search for violations of rules governing the transportation of hazardous materials.
Virtually all of the loaded trailers leaving terminals at the port of Baltimore are being stopped and examined.
The inspections began Tuesday and are to continue through today.
The federal Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the inspections by an array of federal agencies assisted by state and port police, said the program was designed primarily to detect improper documentation and handling of hazardous materials.
Fran Smith, chairman of the Intermodal Council of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, said yesterday that the inspections were hampering the operations of the trucking companies that serve the port of Baltimore and that inspectors were being overzealous.
"There are undue delays," he said. "It seems like it's harassment to us."
As trucks left marine terminals yesterday, the drivers were stopped by state police officers. The trailers were opened, and the contents were examined and checked against shipping documents.
The trucks were also inspected for highway-safety violations. The federal agencies involved, in addition to the Department of Transportation, included the Customs Service, the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Danny L. Swift, the Department of Transportation's regional manager with responsibility for hazardous materials, defended the inspections.
Because the focus is on finding violations of the rules governing hazardous materials, the safety inspections are not as strict as -- those usually conducted along the state's highways, he said.
During the first day of the inspections in Baltimore, 26 of the 161 vehicles checked were ordered out of service, he said, and only two violations involved hazardous materials.