DB residents urged to help clear pellets

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am


Discovery Bay has been left with an unwanted reminder of Typhoon Vicente in the form of millions of raw plastic pellets blown off a ship.

As the city cleans up in the aftermath of the strongest typhoon to hit since 1999, an environmental group in Discovery Bay is calling on residents to help remove the potentially toxic plastic pellets that are strewn along the Lantau Island coastline.

The ship lost part of its cargo as it passed south of Lamma Island at the height of Monday's storm.

'This is definitely an ecological disaster because it's the equivalent of an oil spill,' said Tracey Read, who has organised regular beach clean-ups for the past six years.

More than 250 sacks of the pellets - about 100 of them empty - have been found since Read first spotted about 30 bags of pellets along Sam Pak Wan Beach on Wednesday. Each 25kg sack is estimated to carry about a million pellets.

'The pellets are inert but once they get into the sea, they act like a sponge and absorb toxic chemicals,' Read said. 'So you can have a pellet that contains many more times the chemicals than in the surrounding water.'

She said fish would eat the pellets as they resembled fish eggs. As smaller fish were eaten by bigger ones, the toxins could make their way up the food chain.

'You get a bio-accumulation which magnifies up the food chain, so it's harmful for the fish and potentially, very harmful for us,' she said.

A spokesman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it had finished its clean-up yesterday, having collected about 4.8 tonnes of plastic pellets from Sam Pak Wan beach.

Read said the government had acted quickly and helped clean up many of the bags, but more hands were needed. 'We just need to get people to the beaches and clean up the pellets before they get washed out to sea,' she said.

Gary Stokes, who started the Hong Kong chapter of Sea Shepherd, an international marine conservation body, said since the initial discovery of the pellets in Discovery Bay, more pellets had been found in Shek O and Mui Wo.

'I don't think we've seen the full magnitude of this,' Stokes said.

Three 40ft containers blown off the vessel had been recovered and were now in a Tsing Yi storage facility, he said.

Two of the containers were damaged and found with their doors open and several hundred bags of pellets still inside. The third container was intact.

The pellets were produced by Sinopec's petrochemical refinery in Hainan, but it is not known who they belonged to.

Stokes said Sinopec representatives visited the affected beaches on Friday and had noted the batch numbers of the sacks so they could trace who bought the pellets.

But for now, the priority was to clean up as many of the pellets as possible, he said.