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Progress of cleaning up plastic pellets scattered on beaches, at sea and in fish culture zones

     The Government today (September 12) continued to clean up the plastic pellets scattered on beaches, at sea and in fish culture zones after the typhoon.

     As at 4pm today, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) collected around 0.7 kilograms of plastic pellets. The Marine Department found the wreckage of the sixth container on September 7. Apart from the 65 bags of plastic pellets reported on that day, there were also 150 kilograms of scattered plastic pellets recovered on the sea surface.

     To minimise the impact of the scattering plastic pellets on the environment, food safety and human health, the Government has adopted a three-pronged approach in handling the incident, namely (i) cleaning up plastic pellets on beaches, at sea and in fish culture zones; (ii) conducting risk assessment on the impact on water quality, the marine ecology, fish and food safety; and (iii) monitoring closely the possible impact on mariculturists.

     From August 7, relevant government departments, including the FEHD, the Marine Department, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and the Civil Aid Service, collected a total of more than 12 300 kilograms of plastic pellets. The Marine Police and the Government Flying Service assisted in tracking the where-about of the dispersed plastic pellets. Members of the public, green groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Sinopec International (Hong Kong) Company Limited participated actively in the clean-up operations. Members of the Auxiliary Medical Service also provided support at locations with a large number of cleansing workers and volunteers.

     A Government spokesman pointed out that, by virtue of the concerted efforts spent on the clean-up operations in the past four to five weeks, substantive progress has been made. The quantity of plastic pellets collected recently has dropped consistently to a low level. From August 20, the Marine Police did not report any new locations with plastic pellets. Since September 2, the AFCD did not receive any reports from mariculturists about the presence of plastic pellets in fish culture zones. From September 4, the FEHD collected less than 10 kilograms of plastic pellets a day, which is substantially below the 3 800 kilograms recorded during the peak period. For the LCSD, no plastic pellets were found on beaches under its management this week. Meanwhile, the Marine Department managed to locate on September 7, in waters off Hei Ling Chau Typhoon Shelter, the wreckage of the sixth container with plastic pellets which fell into the sea.

     The spokesman said, "The concerted efforts of government departments, members of the public, green groups, NGOs and Sinopec International (Hong Kong) Company Limited had borne fruit. We believe that the bulk of the plastic pellets scattered in Hong Kong waters had largely been cleared.

     "In the light of the above, the Government will re-align its mode of operation, in the interest of ensuring cost-effective deployment of resources. The FEHD will continue to monitor closely the plastic pellets collection exercise and suitably deploy its manpower as and when the need arises. The Marine Police and the Marine Department will remain vigilant during their daily operations and notify the relevant departments should any plastic pellets be sighted in the course of performing their duties."

     Should they spot any plastic pellets, members of the public may call the government's hotline 3142 2288 specifically set up to receive such reports. Departments concerned will take timely follow-up actions. The hotline will start operation at 9am on September 13.

     Meanwhile, instead of making daily updates relating to the plastic pellet spill incident, starting from tomorrow, relevant government departments will keep the public informed of developments as and when necessary.

     The Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, thanked the community for their active participation in cleaning up plastic pellets in the past weeks, which has enabled the work to be carried out smoothly. He said, "I wish to convey my heartfelt thanks to each and every volunteer for your efforts in cleaning up plastic pellets scattered on beaches and the coastline of Hong Kong. Your care for the Hong Kong society and the personal example you have set in protecting our natural environment will help make Hong Kong a better place to be.

     "I would also like to thank colleagues of the departments under my Bureau for their hard work; as well as those from other government departments for their full support and solid contributions."

     These plastic pellets are chemically inert. Results of tests conducted by the Government on the pellets so far revealed that the risks posed to water quality, marine ecology, fish and food safety are low.

     To ensure that food safety is not compromised in any way, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) closely monitors marine fish sold on the market every day. As at September 12, the CFS has tested 810 samples from fish available for sale. No plastic pellets were detected. Examinations conducted so far have suggested that the plastic pellet incident has not caused adverse impact on food safety. Although the food safety risk remains low, members of the public are well advised to check and clean fish thoroughly and remove all internal organs before cooking in order to ensure food safety.

     At the same time, the AFCD has been closely monitoring the possible impact of the incident on mariculturists. So far, the AFCD did not receive any reports of abnormal fish death at fish culture zones. As at September 12, the AFCD has tested 93 fish samples collected from mariculturists. Only trace amounts of plastic pellets were detected in the early days. The AFCD will continue to maintain contact with mariculturists to assess whether assistance and support to them is necessary.

     The spokesman said, "The incident demonstrates that both the Government and the community attach great importance to environmental protection. Through our concerted efforts, we have kept the impact of the incident to a minimum."

Ends/Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Issued at HKT 20:30

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Last revision date:12-09-2012