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Press Releases

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 storage.

A 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.

The 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 substance inside.
  • 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 Japanese only.

  • 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.

The 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.

The Government, on the other hand, is urged to strengthen the legislative protection presently afforded to consumers of household chemicals.

Results of the survey have been forwarded to the relevant authorities for whatever action deemed necessary.

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 bile.

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 them.

Internet users cautioned to be wary of misleading chain emails

The 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.

The 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 instructed.

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 read.

7 models of large family cars perform well in Europe crash tests

In 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 magazine 'CHOICE'.

The 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 impact standards.

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.

The Government is urged to consider introducing similar crash safety requirements to ensure that Hong Kong will not become a dumping ground for substandard cars.

Issued by
Consumer Council
16 November 1998