LEGISLATORS are to look into the storage and handling of chemicals at universities following the Tokyo subway attack two weeks ago, when the deadly nerve gas sarin killed 10 people and injured 5,000. Safety officers at Hong Kong universities admit that they do not know about all the chemicals kept in individual laboratories, because there is no central monitoring or registry of chemicals bought by researchers. Chemicals similar to sarin are offered for sale by big chemicals suppliers. Although import licences are required, Customs officials and trade officers admit that small amounts could easily be smuggled into Hong Kong. Deputy chairman of the education panel Cheung Man-kwong said he would ask for a full explanation of policy on dangerous chemicals at the universities and schools from the Education and Manpower Branch. Goods such as acids, toxic gases or flammable solvents listed under the Dangerous Goods Ordinance had to be kept in locked central stores, but only 'in significant volume', said Hong Kong University safety manager Des Mabbot. These were inspected yearly and licensed by the Fire Services Department. But he admitted that inspections of laboratories sometimes showed up unregistered stores of these goods. And Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's safety office said: 'We would like to see a central store and central ordering.' Other than dangerous goods, of which there were 30 categories, buyers of chemicals listed under the Import and Export (Strategic Commodities) Ordinance needed a licence from the Trade Department, said principal trade officer John Leung Chi-yan. But he admitted that 'certainly there are some cases where they are bought without licences'. He said there were about 10 prosecutions in 1993. In that year 1,160 import licences and 213 export licences were issued, representing 40,000 tonnes imported and 20,000 tonnes exported of the 54 listed chemicals, said Mr Leung. These raw materials, which can be used to make drugs and chemical weapons, were also used in many industrial processes including electroplating, dyeing and even making toothpaste, he said. One university source said he knew of such chemicals that had been unwittingly ordered - and received - without the required licence. US chemicals firm Sigma-Aldrich lists in its sale catalogue a close relative of sarin - di-isopropyl fluorophosphonate, a known chemical warfare agent - with the warning that it is 'highly toxic'. 'A physician should be alerted of the plan to work with this so that the antidote is ready for use if required,' the company's accompanying safety sheet said. One researcher said he could see no reason to buy such a chemical except to research an antidote - or to make chemical weapons.