Ministers contrite over pellet plague
The health and environment ministers vowed to improve procedures yesterday in the face of mounting criticism of the government's delayed response to the waves of plastic pellets washed onto Hong Kong's shores following Severe Typhoon Vicente two weeks ago.
During a visit to Discovery Bay, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing Man said he only learned of the pellets problem last Thursday, a week after the Food and Environment Protection Department was informed about the incident.
'We have learned a lesson from this,' he said, adding that the government would work on improving interdepartmental co-ordination and its mechanism for notifying the public about such incidents.
Ko and Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing, who also visited Discovery Bay, fielded questions from the media and from volunteers who were helping to clean the beaches of the pellets, which fell into the sea from a ship during the typhoon.
Wong said the authorities had already cleared 40 to 50 per cent of the polypropylene pellets. The bureaus of food and health, and the environment, are working with the Marine Department to monitor the clean-up operation, which began after the authorities were alerted to the problem by community group DB Green.
Keung Siu-fai, secretary of the Hong Kong Fisheries Alliance, urged the government to address the concerns of fishermen about the affect the pellets could have on marine life.
'No matter who is held accountable for the incident, no one has ever informed us of the situation,' said Keung in Siu Tung Wan, a small Cheung Chau beach which was covered with pellets yesterday.
Ko, however, said the general health risk to the public was low.
Agriculture, fisheries and conservation department assistant director So Ping-man, who visited Discovery Bay with Wong yesterday, said the pellets had been found in fish farms in Ma Wan and Cheung Sha Wan in Lantau, but there had been no abnormal deaths in the fish stock.
'The plastics pellets are used to make different things including food containers, so they are non-toxic.' But he added that toxic substances in the sea could stick to the pellets.
It is not an ecological disaster but the pellets might kill fish, he said. Green groups have warned that toxins may accumulate in the food chain when fish swallow the pellets.