Hong Kong's own toxic danger spots

ALMOST all Hong Kong's dangerous goods warehouses violate international safety standards which stipulate that potentially hazardous installations should be a kilometre from residential areas.

The territory has thousands of dangerous goods godowns within a stone's throw of high-rise apartment buildings, although the Government last night refused to reveal details of exactly where they were.

A Fire Services Department official last night admitted: ''It is difficult to build depots in accordance with international standards. It is unavoidable in such a small city like Hong Kong.'' International standards require a safety area of at least 1,000 metres between residential blocks and storage sites.

Most of the major godowns are in the urban areas of Kowloon Bay, Tuen Mun, Chai Wan, Cheung Sha Wan and Sha Tin.

One of Hong Kong's oil depots has been built near the residential development in Heng Fa Chuen and is well within the 1,000-metre recommendation.

Oil depots used to supply the airport have been built near homes, with only the Prince Edward Road separating residents from the installation.

Along with the storage of inflammable fuels around the territory, special warehouses have also been built to store dangerous chemicals.

Four of these godowns, located in Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon Bay, Chai Wan and Tuen Mun, are also close to populated areas.

Charlie Mak, the chairman of the Government's Potentially Hazardous Installation (PHI) committee, which approves the building of all dangerous goods warehouses in Hong Kong, said separation between depots and residential areas depended on the type of material being stored.

''When a potentially hazardous installation is to be built, the owner is required to do a hazard assessment. This establishes whether the depot will meet risk guidelines,'' Mr Mak said.

''A company has to comply with all these risk guidelines before we allow them to build.

''The second process, after we get the hazard assessment, is to study the plans and the land use. We then identify the separation zone required.

''We identify what we can permit the safety area to be used for, residential use is not allowed.'' Mr Mak said all depots were subject to stringent scrutiny.

''All are inspected regularly by either the Fire Services Department (FSD) or the Gas Safety Office,'' he said.

One FSD official said: ''We try our best to ensure these facilities are safe and find ways to improve the management of each company and the Government departments involved so as to minimise the possibility of an accident.'' Acting deputy chief fire officer (protection) Kwok Jing-keung said: ''These godowns are safe. They have been designed to hold dangerous goods and meet all fire and building regulations.'' MR KWOK said the warehouses all had sophisticated fire detection systems.

He said godowns holding more potentially dangerous goods were known as ''island sites''. Streets surrounded these sites and there were no adjacent buildings.

Mr Kwok admitted the ammonium nitrate which caused the first Shenzhen explosion last Thursday, and hydrogen peroxide, which caused the second blast, could be found in the same godown in Hong Kong.

But he said they were stored separately.

Joseph Chan, manager of Kerry Hung Kai Go-down Ltd, which owns a dangerous goods godowns in Sha Tin and Kowloon, said its warehouses were ''safe enough''.

''According to British law, our godowns have enough safety measures. Accidents like the Shenzhen explosion will not happen in Hong Kong,'' he said.

''We pay strong attention to safety in our company, we also have our own set of safety measures on dangerous goods.'' Mr Chan would not reveal the type of dangerous chemicals stored in his company's warehouses.

The Town Gas production plant at Ma Tau Kok, which produces five per cent of the company's total gas supply, is only 30 metres from other industrial buildings and about 100 metres from a residential area.

A spokeswoman for Town Gas, Ally Ho, said that even if there were a gas leak the gas would dissipate safely.

Meanwhile, Tsing Yi residents protested outside Government House yesterday calling for the oil depots on the island to be removed.

The Tsing Yi Concern Group warned a Shenzhen-type tragedy was possible if the installations were not relocated to isolated areas.

''Some of the 170,000 people of Tsing Yi live as close as 150 metres from Liquified Petroleum Gas [LPG] and oil depots and we are deeply concerned about our safety after the explosions in Shenzhen,'' said Ting Yin-wah, a spokesman for the group.

There are six oil and LPG depots on Tsing Yi.

A power plant on the island also has huge oil storage facilities.