Soil samples taken near a Hong Kong gun club were found to contain toxic heavy metals including lead, arsenic and antimony that were as much as 400 times over acceptable levels, a green group said on Friday as it called for action to be taken immediately and the polluter to be held accountable.
The Green Earth has found hundreds of thousands of lead pellets, plastic wads and target shards littered on slopes near the Hong Kong Gun Club in Tsuen Wan since last year.
The group and Dr Chan King-ming, retired associate professor and former director of the environmental science programme at Chinese University, took samples at 10 sites on slopes surrounding the gun club on August 14 – eight from soil near the club and the neighbouring Tai Lam Country Park, and two from the catchment area of the Shing Mun Reservoir.
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According to test results from a government-accredited laboratory, lead, arsenic and antimony levels in the eight samples near the club far exceeded the limits set by the Environmental Protection Department.
The concentration of lead ranged from 5,600mg/kg to 70,000mg/kg, 274 times over the limit of 255mg/kg. Arsenic levels ranged from 11mg/kg to 2,220mg/kg, more than 100 times above the limit of 21.8mg/kg, while the concentration level of antimony ranged from 94mg/kg to 12,500mg/kg, more than 400 times above the limit of 29.1mg/kg.
For the two samples collected at the Shing Mun catchment sites, 200 metres from the gun club, levels of the three heavy metals were either below or slightly above the limit.
Chan said the sites were extremely contaminated, and it was likely the heavy metals were released from lead pellets over the years and leached into the soil.
“The surface of the land is far more contaminated than the ground of an electronics scrapyard, well beyond originally thought,” he said. “It was not caused over a year or two, but over a couple of decades.”
He said more research was needed to determine the extent of the contamination and its impact on the environment as well as on humans and animals. He called on the government to carry out more in-depth, comprehensive research into the issue.
“But from my observation, the contaminated areas are barren, with little grass. I wouldn’t recommend hiking there,” he said.
The club, which was founded more than 70 years ago, moved to its present location in 1973. It has five shooting ranges – one for pistols, two for pistol/rifle events and another two for shotguns.
Ray Yeung Yat-fai, campaign and communications manager of the Green Earth, said the purpose of the survey was not to stop shooting activities, but to urge the government to act immediately to hold the polluter accountable for cleaning and preventing further pollution.
He said solving the issue required the collaboration of the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, Water Supplies, and Environmental Protection departments.
“There are more than 25,000 lead pellets per square foot in some lead-heavy patches. It‘s a testament to chronic negligence,” he said.
The Green Earth found a large quantity of shooting debris near the catchment area of the Shing Mun Reservoir and the gun club early last year. The Water Supplies Department took the club to court for placing foreign materials in water services facilities, but the club was acquitted at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on July 17 over issues related to the evidence collection process.
In an earlier email statement to the Post, the club said it had suspended all shooting activities since July 17, and there “should be no debris arising from shooting activities from our club during this period”.
But Chan said the club’s reply was “totally irresponsible”, and accused it of trying to deny its responsibility for cleaning up after itself.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and Water Supplies Department said they had found shooting debris in the areas and had asked the gun club to provide detailed cleaning plans. Both departments said they would continue to monitor the situation.
The Water Supplies Department also said it had tried to add boards to prevent the waste from falling into a drain, but the effect had not met expectations. It had been sending contractors to clean up the waste and was seeking legal advice, it said.
The Environmental Protection Department said it would collaborate with other departments, providing technical opinions on sampling and testing.The Lands Department said it would seek legal advice if needed, and if a breach of land lease conditions was proved, it would take appropriate lease enforcement actions.
The Post has contacted the club for comment.