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LCQ10: Monitoring of cleaning products sold in Hong Kong

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (February 24):


     According to the Indoor Air Quality objectives (Good Class) for offices and public places drawn up by the Environmental Protection Department, the 8-hour average concentrations of Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC) and Formaldehyde (HCHO) in air should be no more than 261 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) and 81 ppbv respectively. It has recently been reported in the press that, according to the results of a test, the concentrations of TVOC and HCHO in the gases emitted indoor from various household cleaners (cleaners) sold in Hong Kong exceeded the aforesaid objectives. The TVOC concentrations in the gases emitted by some cleaners exceeded the relevant objective by more than 50 per cent to 75 times, while those of HCHO exceeded the relevant objective by nearly twofold to 12 times. As pointed out by a medical specialist, prolonged exposure to high concentrations of TVOC and HCHO may cause rhinitis or sore throat, and may even increase the risk of cancer. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it will set, with reference to the relevant international standards, upper limits on the concentrations of TVOC and HCHO in cleaning products sold in Hong Kong; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) given that information on the product ingredients and place of origin is not included in the labels on some cleaning products sold in Hong Kong, whether the authorities currently monitor the label contents of such products; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that and whether the authorities will review the labelling requirements;

(3) whether it has stipulated safety standards for the composition of cleaning products; if it has, of the penalty for selling products in breach of the standards, and whether it has regularly conducted sample checks on the cleaners sold in Hong Kong to see if they comply with the standards; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(4) whether it has put in place measures to enhance the public's understanding of the proper ways to use various kinds of cleaners, so as to mitigate the effect of improper use of cleaners on indoor air quality; if it has; of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     To improve indoor air quality (IAQ) for safeguarding public health, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has implemented the Indoor Air Quality Certification Scheme for Offices and Public Places (IAQ Certification Scheme) since 2003 and set IAQ objectives for the relevant air pollutants, including total volatile organic compounds (TVOC) and formaldehyde. Under the IAQ Certification Scheme, there are two classes of IAQ, namely "Excellent Class" and "Good Class". According to the IAQ objectives for "Good Class", the 8-hour average concentrations of indoor TVOC and formaldehyde should be less than 261 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) and 81 ppbv, respectively.

     Regarding the test results reported in the press as mentioned in the question, we cannot evaluate whether the test results can be compared with the IAQ objectives directly as we do not have information on the test method, measurement duration and detailed data. Normally, the use of household cleaners would not take a long time and the volatile organic compounds (VOC) released during their use would disperse rapidly. Accumulation of indoor air pollutants can be effectively prevented if adequate ventilation is maintained.

(1) In order to improve air quality and reduce VOC emissions (including formaldehyde) from products, the government introduced the Air Pollution Control (Volatile Organic Compounds) Regulation in 2007 which set limits on the VOC contents of 170 products in phases. The regulated products cover those with relatively high VOC content, including paints/coatings, printing inks, adhesives, sealants, and six categories of consumer products (i.e. air fresheners, floor wax strippers, hairsprays, insect repellents, insecticides and multi-purpose lubricants). VOC emissions from these regulated products accounted for over 80 per cent of the emissions from all the relevant products at that time. We had sought the stakeholders' views on the proposed scope and methods of control in the course of preparing the regulation. There was feedback that cleaning products and certain consumer products were important for maintaining public hygiene and household cleanliness. Hence, controlling these products might reduce the choice of these products. Having considered the relevant views and the relatively small amount of VOC emissions from these products, we did not include household cleaning products and certain consumer products in the VOC control regime.

(2) and (3) The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau has advised that, under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance (the Ordinance), in general, consumer goods which are ordinarily supplied for private use in Hong Kong (including household cleaning products) must comply with the general safety requirement specified in the Ordinance, which requires the goods to be reasonably safe. To determine whether consumer goods comply with the general safety requirement, all the circumstances must be considered, including whether the consumer goods meet reasonable safety standards applicable to those consumer goods published by a standards institute. Generally speaking, whether the product label includes the place of origin or the ingredients of the product may not necessarily affect the safety of the product. At present, there are international standards applicable to cleaning products, but these safety standards may vary for different types of cleaning products. Under the Ordinance, failing to comply with the general safety requirement is an offence. The maximum penalty is a fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for one year on first conviction, and $500,000 and imprisonment for two years on subsequent convictions. The Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) is the key department responsible for enforcing the Ordinance.  In addition to investigating into complaints concerning product safety, the C&ED would monitor the safety of various consumer products supplied in the market.  According to the risk profile of consumer products, the C&ED will accord priority to sampling of products with higher risks for safety tests.

(4) Maintaining good ventilation is an effective means to prevent the accumulation of indoor air pollutants released from cleaning products and other sources and minimise their impact on IAQ. To enhance public awareness of IAQ and the related pollution sources, the EPD has been providing relevant information on IAQ and conducting publicity and educational activities for the public, including the implementation of the IAQ Certification Scheme, setting up an IAQ Information Centre and website, conducting exhibitions and seminars, broadcasting promotional videos on television, mass transit trains and buses, displaying posters in train and bus compartments, arranging talks for primary and secondary school students on the importance of IAQ on health and ways to achieve good IAQ etc. The EPD will continue to conduct publicity and educational activities to promote the good practices to improve IAQ, such as maintaining good ventilation, avoiding the use of cleaning products or other VOC containing products in confined spaces without ventilation system.

Ends/Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:12


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