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  • 1999.05.17

Caution on use of AC/DC adaptors as test reveals safety hazards in all samples

Consumers are urged to exercise caution in the usage of AC/DC adaptors as a Consumer Council test of these electrical devices has revealed that none of the samples could comply fully with the safety requirements.

Further, as these electrical devices are often left on round-the-clock "standby" mode, they represent a source of rapidly rising energy wastage - and environmental pollution - to the tune of an estimated $70 million a year in electricity consumption.

Complaints have been raised concerning the safety of AC/DC transformers (commonly known as adaptors) designed to convert mains electricity or alternating current (AC) to low voltage direct current (DC) for the operation of low voltage (e.g. 1.5V to12V) electrical appliances.

These transformers or AC/DC adaptors are different from those transformers used to "step down" the local voltage of 220V to 110V for the operation of110V electrical products (e.g. goods of parallel imports).

Users have complained against AC/DC transformers available in the market about incidence of overheating, smell of burning or, in some cases, suspected leakage of current.

As these adaptors are in common use as part of such appliances as cordless phone,portable CD and MD players, and TV games, the Council has conducted a test on 15models comprising 10 direct and 5 non-direct plug-in types.

Results of the test, published today (May 17) in this May issue of the Council's monthly magazine CHOICE, offer little, if any, comfort to the users. In fact, none of the test samples could fully comply with the safety requirements.

Such safety deficiencies could pose potential hazards of weakening of insulation, deformation under pressure, short circuit and overheating that could result in electric shock and fire accidents.

The Council has notified the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department of the test findings for possible action under the Electrical Products Safety Regulation. Most agents claimed that they have ceased supplies of the models in question or made safety improvement.

Consumers should immediately examine their AC/DC transformers at home, exercise due care and caution in the use of these transformers, and consult the report in CHOICE for safety guidance. Highlights of the test include:

  • 12 samples have unsatisfactory coil construction that leads to insufficient creep age and clearance distance between input and output coil. In the worst case, the clearance distance is only 0.6mm. This weakens the electric strength resulting in breakdown under high voltage of 6 samples and posing electric shock risk to the users.
  • 13 samples fail the resistance-to-heat test in that insulation material for retaining plug pins in position and insulation material of the enclosure cannot sustain high heat. They are susceptible to deformation under pressure and may lead to bad electrical contact, short circuit and electric shock.
  • All samples have unsatisfactory method of connection for internal wire and electric cord by soldering only and without additional mechanical fix. Possible loosening may occur and lead to short circuit.
  • During abnormal condition such as short circuit or overload, half of the samples are unsatisfactory in that they may develop hazardous conditions such as overheating and weakening of insulation. Two samples have particularly bad performance: one gave out flame and the other deformed leading to the exposure of live current carrying parts.
  • If the voltage switch is erroneously set at 110V instead of 220V, it may lead to damage and weakening of insulation in 4 samples posing potential hazard of electric shock.

Disposable contact lenses should not be bought without proper eye examination or prescription

Consumers are warned against the danger in purchasing disposable contact lenses from optical shops without an eye examination or a recent prescription.

This is because consumers may use the lenses wrongly in the absence of proper guidelines. And more seriously the lenses may not fit their corneal curvature or size.

The advice is contained in a comprehensive report of the Consumer Council on disposable contact lenses and contact lens care solutions released in this issue of CHOICE.

Under the law, only registered ophthalmologists and optometrists who are qualified to practice contact lens fitting, are allowed to prescribe them.

Consumers, particularly the first-time users, are strongly advised to buy disposable contact lenses from optical shops employing qualified personnel and follow their advice.

Further, eye condition changes with age. Consumers relying on the same prescription without regular check-up to buy contact lenses, may run the risk of damage to the eye.

People who buy contact lenses by post or phone, email or online, are reminded of the same problem. They should also take into account the lack of after-sales check-up service from these companies abroad. Should they decide to buy from these suppliers, they should have the lenses checked by an eye care professional to ensure correct fitting.

In addition, consumers are cautioned never to wear disposable contact lenses beyond their specified duration. Users should cease use and replace them with new disposable lenses in accordance with the instructions on the package and guidelines of optometrists.

According to an overseas study, disposable contact lens wearers have a 14-fold higher chance of developing corneal ulcer than conventional soft lens users. This is because many users think that no disinfection is needed for daily wear disposable contact lenses and also some wear them during sleep (to help them gain a clearer image in their dreams?). Users are advised to take out their disposable contact lenses, clean and disinfect them every night before bedtime.

The report notes that some disposable contact lenses claim to protect eyes from ultra-violet (UV) rays. However, according to the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), the function of UV protection of such lenses has not yet been established. Consumers are advised to wear UV protection sunglasses when necessary.

Useful tips to secure value for money in choice between alkaline and carbon zinc batteries

Tips are provided in this May issue of CHOICE to help consumers choose between alkaline and zinc carbon batteries that offer the best possible value for money.

This follows a Consumer Council test on 35 models of AA and AAA sized batteries - 18 alkalines and 17 zinc carbons.

According to the test, alkaline batteries do last longer than zinc carbon batteries but they are also more expensive.

The choice will depend largely on the appliances - whether they are of a (1) high drain (e.g. camera flash),or (2) medium drain (e.g. portable CD player) or (3) low drain (e.g. pager).

By simulating the use of the batteries with different demands (high, medium and low drain) on them, the average life per dollar of different batteries can be compared for the reference of consumers.

The general advice to be drawn is that the longer life alkaline batteries make them more convenient as the need to change is less often, and economical to be used on high drain devices. On the other hand the zinc carbons may also offer good value for money as they are more suitable for low drain devices such as remote control or clock.

As an environmental concern, the mercury content of all battery samples was found to be below 0.025%, being incompliance with the US and EU regulations. Rechargeable batteries are generally more environmentally friendly than disposable alkaline or zinc carbon batteries as they last longer thereby producing less waste.

Other useful tips for using batteries:

  • Look for a long expiry date when buying batteries as they deteriorate over time. So, do not buy more than one can reasonably use in a long time.
  • Do not store batteries in warm places such as under the sun or near an electrical appliance.
  • Remove batteries from a device that will not be used for a long period of time.
  • Do not install old and new batteries together in an appliance.

Decorated ceramic cups pose health hazard as test detects leachable lead on lip and rim area

Ceramic cups with colourful decorations on the exterior could pose a health hazard to users.

A Consumer Council test has detected leachable lead from the lip and rim area (the part which extends 20 mm below the rim on the outside of the cup) of at least 3 decorated ceramic cups.

The test included 18 samples from China, Japan and England with prices ranging from $16 to $118. The 3 models in question have decorations patterned on the traditional Chinese designs.

They were found to exceed the US FDA safety limit of a maximum of 50 parts per million (ppm) lead. In the worst sample, the leachable lead reached 220 ppm or 3.4 times higher than the FDA limit.

Even for the same model, large variations could be found in the amount of leachable lead - the worst ranged from 34 ppm to 220 ppm, a difference of 186 ppm. This is probably due to improper quality control in the manufacturing process of the products.

Lead that accumulates in the body over time has detrimental effect to the kidney and nervous system, particularly to the central nervous system of children impairing their mental development and growth.

The Council has referred the test findings to the Customs and Excise Department's Trading Standards Investigation Bureau for action necessary under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance.

Consumers' right to be informed on umbilicalcord blood bank service

The attention of the Consumer Council has been drawn to a private service for storing umbilical cord blood.

Included in this May issue is a report on the issue of umbilical cord blood transplantation.

The Council has sought comments from experts in the field including the Hong Kong College of Paediatricians, Hospital Authority and Department of Health.

In view of the lack of law sat present for the control of the service quality of this kind of private human tissue bank, the Council has highlighted the following issues:

First, a cord blood bank has the duty to clearly inform consumers the terms of storage such as the charges, the possession and the right of use of the cord blood, and provisions, if any, for compensation in case of storage accident, etc.

Second, consumers are advised to seek opinions from doctors to decide whether they have the need to store the umbilical cord blood for their newborn.

Third, the Government should give consideration to the necessity for drawing up guidelines for the provision of such service here.