CHOICE # 265 (15 November 1998)
Survey reveals serious lack of adequate safety labelling on
hazardous household chemicals
Many hazardous household chemicals, such
as thinners and bleaches, drainers and strong acids, are being sold
without adequate safety labelling to safeguard their proper use and
Consumer Council survey has revealed that out of the 315 samples of
hazardous household chemicals, the safety labelling of more than
half (159) was judged to be unsatisfactory.
Among them, 71 had neitherEnglish nor
Chinese safety labelling, 45 carried bilingual warnings with
seriousvariations between the two language versions, 17 were in
Chinese only and 26 in Englishonly.
Lack of proper warning orcaution phrases
on the use and storage of hazardous chemicals has been blamed for a
numberof accidents causing serious bodily injuries:
- Two brothers were badly injured in an explosion caused by the
use of a urethane lacquer floor wax mixed with volatile thinner in
an enclosed room.
- A housewife was burned in her hands and feet in an explosion
caused by a pipe drainer being used on the kitchen drainage.
- A father mistook an instant glue as an eye drop and used it on
her 10-year-old daughter.
Included in the survey werehousehold
chemicals commonly found in kitchen and toilet products, furniture
and floorproducts, personal products, clothes cleaners and
bleaches, air products, etc.
survey has identified,with particular concern, certain problem
areas with regard to safety labelling of theseproducts:
- Hazardous chemicals such as paint thinner, turpentine and
strong acid can be bought in varying quantities in hardware stores.
These chemicals are sold without any safety labelling but even
worse is the practice of the stores to reuse empty bottles of beer,
soft drinks or distilled water to store these hazardous chemicals
for household consumers. It was found that the only "warning" of
the hazardous chemicals is just a single Chinese character on the
plastic stopper presumably to denote the name of the dangerous
- Some stores are believed to import directly for retail sales
household chemicals, such as toilet cleaners and laundry bleaches,
but do not provide for bilingual safety labelling requirements. A
lot of these products are being sold with their original labels in
- Some warning labels are however in English only without any
Chinese. A case in point involves a rubber cement which warns:
"Poison. Not to be taken internally. Keep out of reach of children.
Inflammable. No fire. Avoid contact with skin and eyes. Avoid
breathing as a vapour." Chinese-reading consumers who do not
understanding the warning and use the product near fire, expose
themselves to grave risks of fire accident.
- In some cases the meanings of the English and Chinese versions
are different. For example, on a bottle of bleach, the English
caution states that "If swallowed, drink a glass of water. Do not
induce vomiting." The Chinese version carries the meaning that "If
swallowed, drink a glass of water. This will not cause vomiting."
In this case, the Chinese version is wrong.
- Some safety labelling is totally inappropriate. A spray paint
for toy models has this bilingual warning label on the package:
"Toy contains small parts and marbles. Do not aim the marbles at
people's face or mouth." The label is apparently intended for a
projectile toy but somehow finds its way on a spray paint.
- Other problems include variation in contents of the bilingual
warning stickers from the original labelling; warning stickers
concealing partly or wholly the original labelling; difficulty in
locating the warning leaflets.
Consumer Council callson suppliers of household chemicals to comply
with bilingual safety labelling requirements so as to safeguard the
proper use and storage of their products.
Government, on the other hand, is urged to strengthen the
legislative protection presently afforded to consumers of household
Results of the survey have been
forwarded to the relevant authorities for whatever action deemed
Health warning on consumption of raw snake bile
It's time of the year for snake feast
but the Consumer Council cautions that taking raw snake bile can
lead toserious diseases.
According to TraditionalChinese Medicine
classics, snake meat can drive out "wind", facilitatecirculation
and alleviate muscle problems; whereas snake bile can clear
"heat",eliminate phlegm and tranquilize the mind.
Though snake products mayhave some
benefits for health, consumers are reminded of the risk they bear
when eatingraw snake products and in particular raw snake
Snake biliary bladder can bepurchased
from snake shops. After a snake is slaugthered, the whole bladder
is removedinstantly and stored in wine.
Many people believe thatthis could
sterilize the bladder. But the alcohol content of such wine is
usually 30 to50% which is less than the best concentration for
disinfection (70%). Further as thebiliary bladder sold is intact,
the alcohol cannot kill the germs inside.
There have been reports ofpeople taking
raw snake bile with serious consequences:
- In 1995, a person in Zhejiang, China, who took snake bile
regularly for years fell ill and was found to be infected with a
kind of snake parasite.
- In September this year, three Taiwaneses who took snake bile
for a week, were found to contract acute hepatitis.
Snake meat and snake bileare used also
to make medicinal wine. Excessive consumption of snake and snake
bile winescan damage health. People with heart or liver diseases,
pregnant women and young childrenshould avoid consuming
Internet users cautioned to be wary of misleading chain
Consumer Council has expressed concern over the growth of chain
letters via email.
While most chain emails arejust hoaxes,
some are purposely devised to damage the reputation of a product
ororganisation or obtain monetary benefit.
Highlighted in this Novemberissue of the
Council's monthly magazine CHOICE are a number of chain email
examplesincluding a product-related "cancer scare" and a so-called
"make moneyfast" scheme which asks the recipients to mail money to
the addresses on the email asa way to earn more money.
Consumer Councilcautions consumers to be wary of such monetary
chain emails. Besides running the risk oflosing your money, you may
in the process expose your email or mailing addresses to peoplewho
may abuse them.
Internet users -parents and their
children - are advised to simply ignore chain emails and never to
react to them nor forward them to any person or group as
Consumers should realise that chain
emails are in fact junk emails which clog the network and interfere
with legitimate email messages. They are also time consuming to
7 models of large family cars perform well in Europe crash
a crash test conducted by the Euro New Car Assessment Programme
(Euro-NCAP) with support from Governments, consumer groups and
motorist clubs in Europe, all the seven models of large family cars
were found to perform well.
Three samples were awarded the maximum
four-star rating while the rest came very close to the top rating
with a score of three stars.
Results of the crash tests were
published in this latest (265) issue of the Council's monthly
report notes thatseveral major car markets including the United
States, European Union, Australia and Japan have introduced
legislation that makes it mandatory for new cars to meet certain
Based on the results of the tests of the
first four phases of Euro NCAP, the Council notes that out of the
total 40car models tested 17 may not meet the side impact
requirements of the new EU legislation,which just came into effect
in October 1998.
Government is urged to consider introducing similar crash safety
requirements to ensure that Hong Kong will not become a dumping
ground for substandard cars.
16 November 1998