HONG KONG — Hundreds of millions of potentially toxic plastic pellets from shipping containers knocked off a vessel during Hong Kong’s worst typhoon in 13 years have washed up on its beaches where they lay for more than a week, activists say.
The Hong Kong government estimated that 150 tons of the pellets may have been spilled on its beaches, Hong Kong television reported on Saturday.
Local media questioned the government’s lack of public notice about the spill, almost two weeks after Typhoon Vincente, which was upgraded to Signal 10, the first time since 1999 that the city’s meteorological body invoked its highest measure.
While the pellets are harmless in their original state, they absorb toxins and pollutants over time and could poison the food chain when marine creatures consume them.
Also known as nurdles or mermaid tears, the tiny pellets are widely used to make plastic products.
“It looked like it snowed in east Lamma,” Gary Stokes, a local representative for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international marine life conservation non-profit working with local authorities to clean up the plastic spill.
Stokes was referring to the beaches on the eastern coast of Lamma island, just south of the main Hong Kong island and around which remnants of three 40-foot containers holding thousands of 25-kg bags of the white-colored pellets were found scattered.
Stokes said that the Hong Kong government had been forthcoming with their assistance. The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Agency could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), manufacturers of the pellets, said the pellets were not toxic or hazardous on their own.
“We are organizing people, mostly volunteers, to help clear and collect them, possibly tomorrow,” company secretary Huang Wensheng said.