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SEN concerns over plastic pellets scattered at sea and on beaches (with photos)

     The Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, today (August 5) expressed concerns over the scattering of plastic pellets at sea and on beaches during the typhoon last month. The government has conducted inter-departmental coordination work and deployed additional manpower to follow up on the incident, and will continue to closely monitor the development of the situation.

     Mr Wong and the Assistant Director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, Dr So Ping-man, inspected Nim Shue Wan in Discovery Bay and other beaches in the vicinity today to understand the latest situation of the plastic pellets scattered in the sea and on shore.

     Mr Wong said after the inspection that the government has carried out inter-departmental coordination work in three aspects in the past 10 days, including tracking and liaison, risk assessment, and clean up and salvage work.
     On tracking and liaison, Mr Wong said the government has a comprehensive mechanism to trace the plastic pellets. Upon receiving reports on the incident, the relevant government departments, including the Marine Department, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) have taken immediate air, sea and land follow-up action. They have also discussed with relevant parties, including green groups, on how to deal with the situation.

     The relevant departments have also conducted assessments with regard to food safety and marine ecology. They will also deploy additional manpower to speed up the clean-up operation and keep close contact with green groups and the local community to continue to clear up the plastic pellets.

     During Typhoon Vicente last month, a container ship lost seven 40-feet containers in the waters south of Hong Kong. Six containers contain sacks of plastic pellets (150 tonnes in total) and one contains glass bottles. Some of the containers were broken causing the plastic pellets scattered at sea and washed on nearby beaches.

     Five containers carrying the plastic pellets were located by the Marine Department. The department has immediately salvaged the containers and the plastic pellets at sea. About 50 tonnes of pellets in sacks were collected in the waters by the Marine Department so far.

     On the land side, the FEHD was notified that a large quantity of plastic pellets were found at Sam Pak Wan in Discovery Bay; Sham Wan and Tung O Wan on Lamma Island; Tung Wan Tsai in Cheung Chau; Shap Long San Tsuen at Chi Ma Wan; Silvermine Bay at Mui Wo; Lo Chau; Cheung Sha Lan; Nim Shue Wan; and Tung Wan at Peng Chau. Upon notification, clearance operations were immediately conducted. So far, about 21 tonnes of plastic pellets washed onshore have been cleared. Together with those collected by the Marine Department, about half of the plastic pellets have been cleared.

     In addition, upon notification of the incident, the EPD has immediately contacted the FEHD for necessary clean-up action and also alerted the Marine Department about the incident. Officers of the EPD carried out on-site inspection at the beaches in Discovery Bay and followed up with the FEHD on how to clean up the plastic pellets. As the relevant government departments have taken actions promptly after receiving complaints and the plastic pellets are not toxic in nature, the water quality nearby has not been affected.

     The AFCD was also notified by the EPD of the incident and has inspected the southern waters of Hong Kong and the fish culture zones in the vicinity. Mariculturists reported today that a trace amount of the plastic pellets was found at Ma Wan and Cheung Sha Wan fish culture zones. No abnormal activity or death of fish has been reported so far. The AFCD will continue to closely monitor the situation.

     According to the risk assessment conducted by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS), there is no cause for undue concern over food safety. The CFS said although environmental contaminants such as persistent organic pollutants can be adsorbed by the scattered plastic pellets over time, the increased food safety risk is unlikely to be significant as wild fish locally caught only constitutes a very small part of our diet. The CFS will closely monitor the situation.

     The CFS advised members of the public not to eat any fish with abnormal appearance, smell and taste as well as dead fish on the beach. They should wash fish thoroughly and remove the internal organs before cooking. The Food and Health Bureau and departments under the Bureau will step up monitoring of food safety for fish caught in local waters, as well as marine cultured fish in Hong Kong.

     The relevant government departments will continue to clean up the plastic pellets and salvage the missing containers. The Marine Department will step up patrols along the coastline. Through the reporting system, vessels are urged to make reports on sighting of the missing containers. Information had been passed to the Mainland maritime authorities in the neighbouring region so that they are aware of the incident and will report on the sighting of the missing containers in their respective waters. The ship owner conducted helicopter search along the coastline of Hong Kong to look for the possible stranded or floating containers and the scattered plastic pellets. The Marine Department will continue helicopter search and arrange reinforcement from other districts to tackle the incident.

     The FEHD will also continue to step up patrols and carry out clean-up work. Besides, joint operations by the FEHD and the Marine Department have been arranged for clearing plastic pellets at distant areas that are not easily accessible.

     The government will continue to closely monitor the development of the incident. Meanwhile the relevant departments will maintain close communication with each other with a view to finishing the clean-up work as soon as possible.

Ends/Sunday, August 5, 2012
Issued at HKT 21:35


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