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Chemicals Clampdown To Send Costs Soaring – Proposal To Cap Compounds In More Than 70 Products

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP | Updated on Nov 08, 2008

The costs of materials for painting and decorating homes, vehicles and ships are expected to climb as much as 200 per cent after the government introduces new curbs on smog-inducing chemicals. Proposed regulations would cap the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in more than 70 products, including vehicle and marine paints, adhesives and sealants for construction and household use.

If the regulations are endorsed by lawmakers, Hong Kong will become one of the leading regions in the world in controlling VOC emissions, following California, which will implement strict limits from January.

The new rules are scheduled to be introduced in phases from January 2010 to April 2012.

The Environmental Protection Department estimates they will cut VOC emissions by up to 700 tonnes a year – about 2 per cent of the total.

But it says some of the affected products could rise in price by up to 200 per cent initially, until more supplies are available in the market.

In a submission to the Advisory Council on the Environment, the department said the new rule was necessary for Hong Kong to meet its pledge to cut VOCs to 55 per cent of 1997 levels under an agreement with Guangdong province. So far, it has achieved only a 40 per cent cut.

VOC content in hair spray and lubricants, insecticides, printing ink and buildings paints has been capped since April last year.

Under the latest rule, the department projected that the prices of adhesives and sealants for construction uses would rise by up to 200 per cent, while the garage trade might need to invest HK$5,000 to HK$30,000 to upgrade its painting facilities.

For shipyards, the impact would be small because painting accounts for only about 3 per cent of total ship maintenance costs.

The department said it had consulted suppliers, manufacturers and users about the proposal and believed they could comply with the new requirements before the regulations took effect.

Hong Kong Vehicle Repair Merchants Association chairman Ringo Lee Yiu-pui said over 80 per cent of the paints and additives the vehicle repair trade used needed replacement under the rule, and the costs would be up to a third higher.

“It is clear that the extra cost will be passed on to consumers. But we haven’t seen, so far, any substitute products available on the market,” he said.

A spokesman for the vehicle maintenance company Inter Auto Engineering said that while the change was believed to be a step in the right direction, the company was concerned about the impact on its costs and client relationships.

Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union head Choi Chun-way said the new regulation should not be implemented until there were proven substitutes for the adhesives and sealants.

“The VOC-free adhesives will take longer to dry, and this will lengthen the work period. But most important, we are not sure these products can deliver the same results as those with VOCs,” he said.

Hong Kong Shipyard manager Ma Chi-wai said the regulation would not affect his business because the cost of paint was directly borne by shipowners. He said he was not worried that shipowners might send their vessels to the mainland for repairs to minimise costs.

The Star Ferry said it had switched to cleaner paints long ago and those now in use were neither toxic nor bad for air quality.

VOCs react in the air with sunlight and oxides of nitrogen to form ozone, a key ingredient in air pollution.

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