LCQ18: Radiological contamination

     Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (February 15):


     It has been reported earlier that a country found that the level of radioactive contamination of automotives made in Japan exceeded the normal standard and thus banned the import of such automotives. Regarding the radioactive contamination of Japanese products, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) apart from food products, whether the authorities have conducted regular sample tests since March last year on the level of radioactive contamination of products (including auto parts and components, electronic components, drugs, toys, cosmetic products, clothing, stationery items, daily necessities and medical equipment, etc.) made in Japan; if they have, of the number of sample tests conducted and the test results; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) given that Japan announced in December last year the leakage of contaminated water with a high concentration of radioactive substances (the contaminated water), of the government departments in Hong Kong which are responsible for assisting those Hong Kong people who are worried about having come into contact with the contaminated water in Japan to conduct checks; and

(c) given that a health desk was set up by the authorities at the Hong Kong International Airport for passengers arriving at Hong Kong from Japan for voluntary checking of their level of radioactive contamination, of the number of members of the public who were checked at the health desk, and whether the level of radioactive contamination of any of them exceeded the normal standard; whether the authorities have compiled statistics on the members of the public who went to public or private hospitals, clinics or laboratories on the own for treatment or checking upon suspension of the health desk service since May last year; if they have, of the statistics; if not, the reasons for that?


     Radiological contamination in products can be surface contamination or contamination of raw materials. Surface contamination may be removed through suitable decontamination measures. Hence, unless a particular product comes from the vicinity of the source of a nuclear accident and is not properly decontaminated, the risk of persons being cross-contaminated from such a product is extremely remote. Contamination of raw materials may be avoided through testing and certification processes in industrial manufacturing. Both types of contamination can be detected using radiological monitoring equipment.

     According to a joint news release of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Maritime Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Tourism Organization and the International Labour Organization dated April 14, 2011, screening of radiation for health and safety purposes is currently considered unnecessary at airports and seaports around the world.

     As regards the ban of automotives made in Japan by a certain country alleged in the preamble of the question, according to our research, there was a media article on November 24, 2011 which said that Mongolia would impose a ban on the import of cars from Japan which have not undergone radiological inspections.  The same article quoted the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as to be checking on the situation with the Mongolian authorities.

     My reply to the three parts of the question, with consolidated information from relevant policy bureaux and departments, are as follows:

(a) Since the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011, the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) has stepped up its efforts at the airport and seaports to monitor goods imported from Japan (including pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, personal care products, family products, other consumer products, etc.) for safety testing of radiation levels, in order to prevent radiologically contaminated goods from entering Hong Kong.

     As at early February this year, C&ED has checked over 613,000 air consignments and over 15,000 sea consignments from Japan. No samples were found to have been radiologically contaminated.

(b) According to the radiation monitoring readings released by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the environmental radiation levels throughout Japan (except Fukushima Prefecture) have come down to levels comparable to that before the nuclear accident, and these levels are far below what would trigger tissue reactions. As regards Fukushima Prefecture, the 20-kilometre radius around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and other areas with higher levels of radiation remain designated as an evacuation zone by the Japanese Government, where public access is restricted. In this connection, travellers visiting Japan need not worry about being exposed to radiation or radiological contamination at harmful levels.

     As for radiological contamination in seawater, MEXT released radioactivity concentration readings at the offshore of Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki Prefectures, located more than 30 kilometres away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  According to the data, there were minute amounts of radioactive caesium found in some of the samples, but its activity is far below the guideline levels for determination of the closure of bathing areas.  On the other hand, Fukushima Prefecture is located 3,000 kilometres away from Hong Kong, and the prevailing sea current near the prefecture predominantly drifts towards the northeast, hence the chances of Hong Kong waters being contaminated in this connection is minimal. Despite so, following the nuclear accident, the Hong Kong Observatory has stepped up its seawater radiation monitoring and collected seawater samples from Hong Kong waters with the assistance of the Environmental Protection Department. The measurement results show that no artificial radionuclide is detected in any seawater samples collected within Hong Kong waters.

     Given that the radiological impact on health is most significant at the source of the nuclear accident, accident and emergency (A&E) departments of public hospitals in Hong Kong would determine whether further examination is necessary for a patient on the basis of his travel history to Fukushima Prefecture and his clinical presentation.  

(c) In order to assist travellers returning from Japan who were worried about their personal health, the Government set up a health desk at the Hong Kong International Airport from March 16 to May 12, 2011 which provided voluntary radiation checks for travellers in need. During the period, a total of 3,936 travellers received assistance. No cases of radiological contamination were found.

     Since the Fukushima nuclear accident, A&E Departments of local public hospitals have not found any cases of radiological contamination, nor received any cases which meet the A&E triage guidelines devised in response to the Fukushima nuclear accident as mentioned above. We have not been informed of any cases from the private healthcare sector.

Ends/Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Issued at HKT 18:17