Hong Kong environmentalist pricked by syringe on beach clean-up says waste was dumped deliberately
Robert Lockyer is nervously awaiting blood test results after being stabbed by a medical syringe while helping to clear rubbish from a beach on Lamma, one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands
A Hong Kong environmentalist pricked by a syringe while taking part in a beach clean-up says he has had sleepless nights while awaiting blood test results.
Robert Lockyer was taking part in a clean-up on April 15 at Pak Kok Tsui on Lamma Island when he was stabbed in the leg by a needle. While the rocky beach on the island’s northern tip is not popular with tourists or beachgoers, Lockyer says it is popular with fishermen and local children.
He went to Ruttonjee Hospital, a public hospital in Wan Chai, to be tested for HIV, tetanus and hepatitis, and is nervously awaiting the results, which should come through in about three weeks.
Lockyer believes the needles, which are difficult to spot among the rubbish on the beach, looked like they had been there for a few weeks. Since they were not labelled, he was not able to work out what the syringes were used for, who had used them or when they were used, but he does believe they were deliberately dumped.
“This is deliberate dumping of medical waste by a contractor on Hong Kong Island, either dumping veterinarian or hospital/clinic medical waste. Either way it is deliberate dumping. Not accidental. Not drug users. Not from the PRD [Pearl River Delta] or China,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Household waste has washed up on beaches in large parts of Hong Kong with increasing frequency in recent years. The volume of waste increases after summer storms.
Environmentalists and other experts suspect much of it has been swept from the Pearl River Delta or elsewhere in southern China, with Hong Kong itself to blame for the rest. Medical waste has previously been found mixed with this household waste.
Lockyer says that, judging by tidal movements, the items found on the beach would have come from Hong Kong Island, most likely from a point between Pok Fu Lam and Ap Lei Chau.
“It’s unacceptable to allow our beaches to be strewn with medical waste so that they are not safe for our children, ourselves and our fellow creatures. This absolutely must stop,” says Lockyer, who organises regular beach clean-ups around Hong Kong through his role with environmental group HK125coastal.
Lockyer was using a shovel to dig in a pile of rubbish that was two metres high when the sides of a hole he had dug collapsed on his leg. The needle that stabbed his leg was hidden among rubbish that included Styrofoam, plastic bottles, and other medical waste.
Lockyer says government staff had visited the area just a few weeks earlier and classified it as clean and satisfactory.
He says medical waste is an inevitable find during beach cleaning activities.
“I’ve conducted beach clean-ups worldwide, including in Britain, Australia, Africa, the Philippines and the US, but I have never seen as much medical waste as I’ve seen in Hong Kong … Countries less developed than Hong Kong don’t have this problem.”
District councillor Paul Zimmerman, who is also the chief executive of non-profit organisation Designing Hong Kong, says the government needs to start treating medical waste as forensic evidence, and not just waste, so their source can be traced more easily.
“Some waste items have visible markers [such as] a patient name and hospital details, so it can be traced,” he says. “If there isn’t a change [in] how they approach this issue, then the problem will just continue.”
In July 2016, Zimmerman, Moran Zukerman, a resident of Lantau, another of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, and Julie Leung from environmental organisation Plastic Free Seas took medical waste collected over two months from another beach to government officials, and urged them to take action and find its source.
The medical waste had been collected on Sam Pak Wan, Lantau, and included syringes, glass, plastic containers, vials and IV bags. Some syringes still had needles attached.
The government’s Environmental Protection Department has been contacted for comment. Its website says clinical waste is potentially dangerous because it can cause cuts and needle-stick injuries or transmit disease.
Anyone who discovers medical waste should call the government hotline on 1823.