Gas ban leads to blaze fears

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 1995, 12:00am

A BIG blaze could leave Hong Kong short of fire-extinguishers following a worldwide ban on production of the ozone-destroying chemicals they use, the Environmental Protection Department(EPD) has warned.

Companies such as the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), China Light and Power, Cathay Pacific and Hongkong Telecom could be left begging each other for halon gases to refill their extinguishers.

But the EPD says that its attempt to set up an information exchange has been hampered as a result of a lack of co-operation from companies.

Principal environmental protection inspector Franklin Chung Moon-kun said: 'We think the industry could have a problem if there is a big fire.' The MTR said it had enough halon extinguishers, but had no contingency plans for what it would do if other companies rang it for help.

'We certainly don't have a policy on that,' said the MTR's chief engineer (operations) Phil Gaffney. 'We are more than willing to look at it if it is believed to be a territory-wide problem.

'We are in regular contact with the other major users and nobody has ever expressed that to us at all.' Mr Gaffney said the MTR always passed on any information that the EPD requested.

Halons - gases containing bromine, chlorine or fluorine - are used in extinguishers for use in confined spaces, among crowds or for electrical fires where carbon dioxide or water would be unsuitable.

One of the most commonly used is bromotrifluoromethane BTM, because it is highly effective in comparatively small amounts. The MTR uses it in its escalator machinery rooms.

But the gases have been proven to destroy the ozone layer, the thin barrier above the atmosphere which protects life from dangerous solar radiation.

Under the internationally agreed Montreal Protocol they are strictly controlled.