Blaze factory kept chemicals illegally

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2007, 12:00am

Toxic and flammable chemicals, including cyanide, were illegally stored inside the Tsuen Wan electroplating factory where a fire killed one firefighter and injured nine other people, including six other firefighters, on Monday night.

The information was announced yesterday by Fire Services New Territories South divisional commander Szeto Yat-san as the department sought police help to investigate whether the water supply to the factory's auto-sprinkler system had been deliberately disconnected and who was responsible.

'The act may have led to the death of the fireman and this could be a manslaughter offence,' Mr Szeto said, adding that detectives from the New Territories South regional crime unit were looking into a 'possible criminal element in the case'.

A valve controlling the water supply to the sprinkler system had been turned off when the blaze broke out on the sixth-floor of the factory. There was no problem with the water supply to sprinkler systems on the other floors of the 23-storey QPL Industrial Building.

Former director of fire services Lam Chun-man said on Wednesday that firefighter Wong Ka-hei might not have died if the sprinkler system had been working.

Mr Szeto also revealed yesterday that firemen found 20 to 30 drums of cyanide, more than 30 packages of hydrogen peroxide and more than 30 plastic bottles of chemicals in the factory. Ten to 20 other melted plastic containers of the chemical mixture were also discovered in the factory.

Mr Szeto said preliminary investigation indicated that the factory, which he declined to identify, was not licensed to store dangerous goods.

'Our officers will follow up the case,' he said. 'Samples of the chemicals have also been sent to a government laboratory for examination.

'If we confirm the chemicals are Category No 4 and 6 dangerous goods and kept without a licence, we will prosecute the factory.'

Under the dangerous goods ordinance, the maximum penalty is a HK$25,000 fine and six months' imprisonment.

Mr Szeto said it would take at least three days to remove the chemicals from the factory to dangerous goods plants in Tsing Yi and Pok Fu Lam.

Yesterday, firemen and police were on guard outside the factory. The building has been reopened except for the factory and the seventh floor.

Also, the Civil Service Bureau has approved burying Wong, 27, in Gallant Garden, the official cemetery for government servants killed in the line of duty.

Yesterday, injured fireman Chin Kwok-ming, 45, remained in stable condition in Yan Chai Hospital.