Massive blaze at recycler sparks fears for villagers

Local | Riley Chan 14 Sep 2017

A district councillor is calling for tighter regulations on recyclers after several residents living near such sites expressed fears for their safety.

The fear arose after more than 100 firefighters took four hours to extinguish a blaze that broke out in a recyclable storage site at Shan Ha Tsuen, Yuen Long.

No one was injured in the predawn fire, which was elevated to third alarm after an hour.

Fire Services acting divisional officer Wu Man-to said firefighters used four jets, three foam branches and mobilized five breathing apparatus teams to extinguish the fire in a 40 meter by 40m recyclable storage site, which is under Hankang Recycling.

In all 132 firefighters manning 35 fire appliances and four ambulances were deployed, he said.

University of Hong Kong chemistry professor Chan Wai-kin said the inhalation of black smoke from burning plastics would affect the respiratory system due to the large amount of carbon particles.

He said plastic is a flammable material but since it is difficult to be burned completely, it produces smoke that tends to be darker than that from burning paper and wood, which contains toxic and irritant gases.

Thick black smoke billowed into the sky yesterday and could be seen miles away.

Fire incidents are frequently reported at recycling sites and residents have been voicing opposition to the operation of these businesses near their homes.

Yuen Long resident Katherine Ng Nga-ting, who lives next to a few recycling sites, said she had witnessed two fires. "Lucky enough they were minor incidents. But frequent reports of fire in these recycling sites have got us worried," she said.

Allan Wong Wing-ho, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Scrap Plastic Association trade group, said recycling companies have no choice but to run near residential areas as Hong Kong lacks industrial land. But he defended the fire prevention equipment at these sites.

"I believe the relevant departments conduct inspections regularly. If it is not up to standard, these business wouldn't still be running," Wong said.

However, Yuen Long district councillor Zachary Wong Wai-yin said regulation of these sites is "largely inadequate." He said the sites are only checked before the department grants them licenses. After that no one bothers to conduct an inspection for three years until the license needs to be renewed.

"The government claims they conduct inspections regularly but they could not provide proof or details when I inquired," Wong said.

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