Medical waste worries Discovery Bay beachgoers

Alarmed by medical waste washing up between Discovery Bay and Disneyland, residents urge government to find its source

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:09pm

Hundreds of discarded medical items, including uncovered syringes and infusion bags, have been found recently on a beach in Discovery Bay, raising concerns about visitors' safety, especially with a new hotel nearby planning to open soon.

Tracey Read, of Plastic Free Seas, and resident David Ball urged the government to identify the source of the medical waste and take the responsibility for cleaning up the beach in Sam Pak Wan, which lies between Discovery Bay and Disneyland.

In the past four months, Read collected hundreds of syringes, infusion bags, vials containing powder or liquid, pills and other medical items washed up from the sea. The beach on government land is only a few hundred metres away from Auberge, a new hotel owned by HKR International due to open next month, and some new residential blocks.

Ball said it would be ironic and dangerous if the beach remained filthy, especially since the hotel describes the area as "Hong Kong's oasis".

He first noticed the problem of medical waste 18 years ago, but the matter was barely addressed by the government.

He said the government and the hotel should take action now, because the beach was becoming accessible. Children with their parents were seen walking on the beach when the South China Morning Post visited last month.

"I won't even allow my dog to walk on the beach," Ball said. "It's such a shame. Although we attempted to clean up the beach, no matter how hard we try, the rubbish will come back."

Just three days after a clean-up organised by Read, he said, the beach was covered again with plastic bags, bottles and other rubbish.

The Post reported the same problem on the main beach of Discovery Bay in 1994, and since then the beach has been well maintained.

It's such a shame. Although we attempted to clean up the beach, no matter how hard we try, the rubbish will come back

Some bags found on the beach were marked with the mainland's simplified Chinese characters, while others bore Hong Kong's traditional characters. Read believes the waste originates in both places.

She has been talking to the government about the issue for a few years, but the source of the waste was still unknown.

She recently talked with the Marine Department about putting a boom net in the sea to catch the rubbish before it washes ashore, she said. Read wants to have the content of the vials tested, hoping to identify the source.

The Marine Department said it had conducted joint beach clean-up operations regularly with another environmental group, DB Green - in which Read is a leader - and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. The Islands District Office was discussing the idea of a boom net with relevant departments, a spokeswoman said.

The Environmental Protection Department said it had received two complaints about medical waste washing up to Discovery Bay beaches - one in 2008 and one last October.

But it has found no evidence, as suggested by the complainants, that the waste could be coming from a drug rehabilitation centre on Hei Ling Chau.

Instead, it suspects ships or nearby parts of Hong Kong as the source. Improper disposal of medical waste is illegal in Hong Kong, the EPD noted. HKR International said it had participated in beach clean-ups with environmental groups in the past.