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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

8 everyday products that could be harming you

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 4:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 4:13pm

Some of the things you buy and use every day could actually be bad for you. Hong Kong’s Consumer Council, the city’s watchdog focused on consumer rights and welfare, occasionally brings these to the public’s attention.

Here are some that you should know about.

1. 14 out of 15 children’s scooter models contain cancer-related chemical

More than half of children’s scooters among 15 brands in Hong Kong do not meet toy safety standards, while all but one contain substances linked to cancer, a test by the Hong Kong Consumer Council has found.

The consumer watchdog tested the toys – four models of two-wheelers and 11 models of three-wheelers – which can carry a load of 20kg to 65kg and are priced between HK$198 and HK$850.

The test focused on the materials used to make the products, how well they performed and the chemical content of their handle grips.

All but one of the tested scooter handles were found to contain chemicals that could potentially cause cancer, as well as skin irritation and dermatitis – inflammation of the skin – for children.

2. 38 out of 60 shampoos found to contain harmful manufacturing solvent

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found 38 out of 60 shampoo samples it tested contained a harmful solvent used in manufacturing, with seven exceeding the limit recommended by the European Union.

The Consumer Council also found 20 per cent of the shampoos contained allergy-causing preservatives, and one even tested positive for a heavy metal.

But the agency insisted none of the samples constituted an “immediate” health risk, and only urged those with sensitive skin to be extra cautious when making their choices.

A total of 60 shampoos available in Hong Kong were collected for examination. Most were general shampoos not targeting specific hair problems or types, but some claimed to alleviate hair loss.

3. 46 samples of cooking oil on sale in Hong Kong contained cancer-causing substance

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found more than 40 samples of cooking oil to contain contaminants and a cancer-causing substance.

The Consumer Council tested 60 types of edible oil from various brands and found 46 samples contained the toxic carcinogen glycidol.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified glycidol as a Group 2A substance, or “probably carcinogenic to humans”. There are no safe levels set for it anywhere in the world.

“It is not a Group 1 toxin, which is considered to be very severe carcinogens ... but of course, it would be best not to have any carcinogens in the oils,” professor Terence Lau Lok-ting, convenor of Polytechnic University’s food safety consortium, said.

4. High sodium content found in popular luncheon meat and canned sausages

The Consumer Council has warned Hongkongers of high sodium levels found in luncheon meat and sausages, with the majority of 33 samples it tested exceeding a standard used by the watchdog.

In an extreme case, the actual sodium content of a canned sausage sample was found to be 560 times higher than its indicated amount. Antibiotics were also found in one luncheon meat sample.

The meat products are popular ingredients in dishes at local restaurants and cha chaan tengs, or tea houses, in the city.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency considers food with a sodium level of more than 600 milligrams per 100 grams to have high sodium content. Twenty-eight out of the watchdog’s 33 tested samples fell under this category.

5. Beware of soap-bubble toys, Hong Kong parents warned

Toys containing soap bubbles could harbour micro-organisms that are harmful to children, the Consumer Council warned parents in May 2017.

It tested 12 toys selected at random and found the total microbial count was relatively high in two models, one of which contained a pathogen that could cause illness.

Children who played with such toys and then touched their the eyes or ate without first washing their hands might suffer a bacterial infection with symptoms such as red eyes, conjunctivitis, a swollen throat, skin irritation, gastroenteritis and fever.

“The product should be used up as quickly as possible after it is opened,” said Professor Wong Kam-fai, chairman of the council’s research and testing committee. “People should wash their skin and clothes at once after playing with soap bubbles.”

6. Cancer-causing chemicals found in children’s nail polish

Children’s nail polishes have been found to contain a cancer-causing substance, heavy metals, and in one case a hormone-disrupting chemical, according to Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog in January 2017.

The Consumer Council tested 13 different brands of nail polish, and found that three of them contained benzene, a carcinogenic liquid used in the rubber industry.

These brands included, hinkler Zap!, npw Mood Maker, and Style Me Up!

“We suggest parents should stop using this type of benzene-containing nail polish,” Professor Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the council’s publicity and community relations committee, said.

7. Hormone-affecting substance in erasers could put children at risk

All but one out of 25 eraser models tested in Hong Kong contained a hormone-affecting substance, according to the Consumer Council, posing a health risk for children, especially those with a habit of putting the stationery items in contact with their mouths.

The consumer watchdog found that over 50 per cent of erasers in the market contained excessive amounts of phthalates, a group of chemicals commonly used as plasticisers – to make stationery items soft and elastic.

When ingested, phthalates can disturb the balance and function of the hormonal system in children. Excessive amounts consumed can increase the risk of breast cancer in females and disrupt testosterone levels in males.

The council sampled 25 eraser models available on the market and found that only one model was free of the tested substance. The worst sample had more than 60 per cent of its gross weight consisted of phthalates.

8. More than 1 in 4 soy sauce samples found with substance that can cause cancer

A substance that is thought to cause cancer if consumed in large amounts was found in 11 of 40 soy sauce samples taken by the Hong Kong Consumer Council, it said in August 2016.

Soy sauces and seasonings are common condiments in Chinese dishes, but more than one in four samples tested by the council were found to contain chemical compound “4-methylimidazole”, including those from popular brands such as Yu Pin King and Tung Chun.

The chemical was identified as a possible human carcinogen by the World Health Organisation, however experts claim that the chances of it causing the disease in humans are very low.