Customs advice on plastic mats

1 Jun 2005

Customs and Excise Department today (June 1) released the testing results on the safety of five models of plastic mats purchased locally during its spot checks.

The content of benzene detected in one out of five test samples was only 0.1 parts per million (ppm), well below the allowable level of 5 ppm which the European Council (EC) considers as safe to be present in toys.

The spot checks were initiated following the issue of findings of the Consumer's Foundation in Taiwan that 13 models of plastic mats on sale in Taiwan contained certain toxic substances, namely benzene, toluene and m-xylene. So far, the Customs and Excise Department have not found any of the above plastic mats on sale in Hong Kong.

Officers of the Customs and Excise Department test-purchased five models of similar plastic mats in the spot checks. These samples were then sent to the Government Laboratory for testing on the concentration of benzene, toluene and m-xylene in the goods.

On the first day of unpacking the samples, the Government Chemist confirmed that only one of the models was found to contain 0.1 mg of benzene per kg sample (= 0.1 ppm), but no toluene and m-xylene. In the remaining four models of plastic mats, neither benzene, toluene nor m-xylene was detected.

The Government Chemist conducted the tests again on the seventh day after unpacking the samples. It did not detect benzene, toluene and m-xylene in all the five models of plastic mats.

Customs and Excise Department made reference to a standard of the European Council in considering whether a plastic mat complies with the General Safety Requirement, that is, the European Council Directive 76/769 which specifies that benzene is not permitted in toys or parts of toys at concentration in excess of 5 mg/kg (5 ppm) of the weight of the toy or part of the toy.

Benzene is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as "carcinogenic to human". In accordance with advice given by the Director of Health, the effects of benzene on health depend on the level one is exposed to and the duration of exposure. Brief exposure (five to ten minutes) to very high levels of benzene in air (10,000 to 20,000 ppm) can result in death. Lower levels (700 to 3,000 ppm) can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion and unconsciousness. Toluene and m-Xylene are not cancer-causing substances. Their effects on health depend on the level one is exposed to and the duration of exposure.

Since the content of benzene detected in the sample was only 0.1 ppm, well below the allowable level of 5 ppm which the EC considers as safe to be present in toys, Customs and Excise Department considered that the test samples would not cause harm to children.

As testing result indicated that the concentration of benzene in the sample would be lower when benzene was released from it gradually, Customs and Excise Department advised consumers to unpack the purchased goods and expose them in the open air for at least a week before using it indoor. Besides, the Department advised consumers to maintain the air circulation indoor in a good condition.

Under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance, it is an offence to supply, manufacture or import into Hong Kong consumer goods unless the goods comply with the general safety requirement for consumer goods.

The maximum penalty for the offence is a fine of $100,000 and an imprisonment for one year on first conviction, and $500,000 and two years' imprisonment on subsequent conviction.

For enquiries and complaints regarding unsafe consumer goods, consumers are advised to write to the Consumer Protection and Prosecution Bureau, Customs and Excise Department on the 11th floor, North Point Government Offices, 333 Java Road, North Point or call the Customs hotline 2815 7711.

Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2005

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