LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1153/96-97
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)
Ref: CB1/PL/EA/1

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting held on Tuesday, 25 February 1997, at 10:45 a.m. in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai (Chairman)
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, OBE, FEng, JP
    Hon IP Kwok-him

Member attending :

    Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, OBE, JP

Members absent :

    Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon MOK Ying-fan
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP

Public officers attending :

    All items

    Mr Benjamin TANG
    Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)
    Mr Rob LAW
    Director of Environmental Protection

    Item IV

    Mr John MASSEY
    Government Geotechnical Engineer/Development Civil Engineering Department
    Mr Peter WHITESIDE
    Secretary, Fill Management Committee Civil Engineering Department
    Mr Adrian DAWES
    Senior Environmental Protection Officer
    Dr Gary VIGERS
    Principal Consultant EVS Environment Consultants (Canada)
    Ms Shelley CLARKE
    Principal Consultant ERM Hong Kong Ltd.

    Item V

    Ms Maureen WONG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
    Mr C W TSE
    Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Air)
    Mr W C MOK
    Senior Environmental Protection Officer
    Mr Albert YUEN
    Chief Transport Officer/Paratransit

    Items V to VI

    Miss Joey LAM
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)

Clerk in attendance:

    Miss Odelia LEUNG
    Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

    Ms Sarah YUEN
    Senior Assistant Secretary (1)1

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)663 and 883/96-97)

1. The minutes of the meetings held on 3 December 1996 and 7 January 1997 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

(List of outstanding items for discussion (1996-97) tabled)

2. The Chairman consulted members on whether any overseas duty visits were proposed for the months of April, May and June 1997. No proposal was put forward.

3. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting of the Panel scheduled for 4 March 1997 -

  1. Control of construction dust;

  2. Protection of Harbour Bill; and

  3. Air pollution in vehicle tunnels.

4. The Deputy Chairman requested the Administration to update the Panel on the following subjects -

  1. Indoor air quality;

  2. Fresh water quality; and

  3. Treatment of radioactive wastes.

5. In response, the Administration agreed to update members on 4(a) and (c) above at the meeting to be held on 4 March 1997 as far as possible. They also agreed to liaise with the relevant Branch on the proposed time for discussing 4(b).Admin.

(Post-meeting note: The Administration subsequently advised that 4(a) could be included in the agenda for the meeting on 4 March 1997 and that 4(c) would have to be deferred to the April meeting.)

III.Information papers issued since last meeting

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)648, 658, 683, 716, 886 and 890/96-97)

6. Members noted the following papers issued since last Panel meeting held on 7 January 1997 -

  1. Briefing note from the Administration on the way forward to complete construction of sewage collection tunnels of Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme Stage I;

  2. Information paper from the Administration on Tsuen Wan Slaughterhouse;

  3. Information paper from the Administration entitled "Hong Kong - Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group - Summary of Work in 1996";

  4. Information paper from the Administration on floating refuse and an update on the number of livestock farms;

  5. The Chief Secretary’s reply to the Chairman’s letter regarding marine conservation; and

  6. Tsing Yi Action Group’s two letters on Chemical Waste Treatment Centre to the Panel and the Administration’s response.

IV. Contaminated mud disposal at East Sha Chau

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)898/96-97(01))

7. The Government Geotechnical Engineer/Development (GGE/D) briefed members on the Administration’s information paper. He stressed the need to continuekeep up the momentum of the current strategy of contained marine disposal of contaminated mud at East Sha Chau so as to maintain the viability of Hong Kong’s ports and to enable other important works to be undertaken. A list entitled "Projects which Need CMP IV (Contaminated Mud Pit IV) for Disposal of Contaminated Mud from 1997 to 2002" was tabled to support his point. He hoped that members would support the coming funding proposals for the continuation of the environmental monitoring programmes for five more years and for capping of CMP IVa, b and c. He reminded members that in July 1996, Finance Committee had not supported a request for funds for dredging of Rambler Channel because of concerns about possible effects which disposal of the contaminated mud might have on Chinese White Dolphins (CWD). Subsequently, the dredging of Rambler Channel was reincorporated into the Container Terminal 9 project and so there had not been a need to go back to Finance Committee. Nevertheless, the Administration had been seeking an opportunity to respond to members’ concerns and to present detailed evidence that disposal operations at East Sha Chau were not posing risks to either humans or dolphins.

(Post-meeting note: Updated version of the list provided to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1123/96-97)

8. Dr Gary VIGERS then gave a presentation on the report of EVS Environment Consultants (Canada) (EVS) on risk assessments of contaminated mud disposal at East Sha Chau on CWD. His presentation covered background information on the animal, the kinds of data EVS had collected on the contaminants and how EVS came to the conclusion that there was no link between contaminants found in the tissue of CWD and contaminated mud disposal at East Sha Chau (Ref: paragraphs 7 to 11 of the information paper).

9. Responding to members’ questions on possible causes of death of stranded CWD, GGE/D and Dr VIGERS explained the difficulties in identifying the real cause of death. Firstly, most dolphin strandings were so badly decomposed that cause of death could not be determined. Secondly, past studies were inadequate to provide baseline data on the normal mortality rate of CWD to determine whether the current mortality rate had been increased. The only certainty was that there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest a causal link between sediment quality or contaminated mud disposal and CWD’s mortality.

10. Notwithstanding that there might be no link between contaminated mud disposal at East Sha Chau and CWD’s mortality, members were concerned about the impact of mud disposal on the marine environment and asked whether that the Administration had explored other alternatives of contaminated mud disposal, such as by disposing of dried contaminated mud at landfills or by using it as construction fill.

11. GGE/D commented on members’ proposals as follows -

  1. Disposal of dried contaminated mud at landfills was one of the options considered earlier by the Administration but was discarded because the large volumes of contaminated mud that required disposal would consume too much capacity of the landfills, let alone the difficulty in locating a suitable place for drying the mud. However, this method might be feasible after 2002 when only very small volumes of contaminated mud were expected to need disposal each year.

  2. Contaminated mud was highly compressible sediment of high water content. It was not suitable for use as construction fill because of post-construction settlement considerations. However, the Administration was studying the viability of using it as a filling material in parts of future reclamation projects for which post-construction settlement would not be a concern. For example, areas designated as public parts in the proposed South East Kowloon development could use its contaminated mud as fill in the area designated as public park. This should not pose any health hazard provided it was properly contained within the reclamation.though in the contaminated sediment the metal concentrations would be higher.

12. GGE/D and the Secretary, Fill Management Committee (S/FMC) added that the Administration was considering the options of using the mud to construct artificial polders and of processing it to extract and concentrate the contaminants by methods used in alluvial mining. However, for the former there was the need to consider the size of polders and to allay the concerns over their construction. For the latter, high cost was a consideration but this option could become practical when the volumes of mud to be disposed of greatly decrease after about 2002. Currently the only practical alternative would be to dispose of the mud in Chinese waters subject to the agreement and licensing of the Chinese authorities. In fact, a small quantity had been disposed of in this way by a private party. However, the disposal ground provided is far away and transporting mud by barges over a long distance in open sea conditions was subject to weather and operations would have to be discontinued during bad weather. Moreover, the Administration considered this process less satisfactory as it was not fully under itsbeyond control.

13. To assure members that the current strategy of contaminated mud disposal at East Sha Chau was the most practical option and was environmentally acceptable within the current management and monitoring programme, GGE/D and S/FMC supplemented the following information -

  1. The disposal programme at East Sha Chau was not open ocean dumping. It was very carefully managed with contaminated mud placed into dredged seabed pits which were then capped with clean material. Extensive monitoring conducted during disposal operations had found that the possible loss of material during the placement of mud from the barges into the pits was in the order of 1 to 2 % only. The amount was so small that the tides dispersed it and there was no build-up or accumulation of contaminants in the area. Technical surveys conducted on completed caps had also verified that they were of the right thickness and were successfully isolating the material from the environment.

  2. Despite four years of disposal, the comprehensive programme of environmental monitoring at East Sha Chau had continued to show no adverse trends in water, sediment or biota. In addition, ecological studies on completed caps had demonstrated that recolonisation of the top of the clean mud used to form the caps started very soon after the cap was placed. It was expected that after several years the finished caps of clean mud would have become indistinguishable from the surrounding natural seabed.

  3. The CMP IV to be used for the disposal of contaminated mud at East Sha Chau for the coming five years are the empty seabed pits left after sand extraction for the new airport. By filling in these pits with contaminated mud and then covering them with clean mud, that area of seabed could be reinstated to its original state. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted by ERM Hong Kong Ltd. (ERM) had indicated that reinstatement of the seabed and subsequent recolonisation of the completed capping layers would be of long-term ecological benefit to the area.

14. In reply to members’ questions, GGE/D and Dr VIGERS further explained that East Sha Chau is the preferred area for contaminated mud disposal because the risks associated with using that area are less as compared with other possible areas within Hong Kong waters. This conclusion is arrived at on the basis of the following physical characteristics of East Sha Chau -

  1. East Sha Chau is essentially an area where mud naturally accretes an area that admitted accretion. As time went on, mud was being naturally deposited there rather than being eroded;

  2. as the water there is relatively shallow, losses to the water column during disposal are minimised;

  3. weak currents in this area also help minimise material loss during disposal;

  4. East Sha Chau is accessible by barges all the year round; and

  5. East Sha Chau is relatively sheltered from the weather. Waves are not too big even during typhoons. This is important to safeguard the caps so as not toand release the contaminants.

15. At members’ request for a cost comparison between landfill disposal and disposal at East Sha Chau, the Administration agreed to provide them with more detailed information on the site selection of East Sha Chau, reasons why non-marine alternatives are not viable at present, the Administrationprovide them with more detailed information on the physical conditions of East Sha Chau, a cost comparison between landfill disposal and disposal at East Sha Chau, EVS’s overview report of the management strategy in the monitoring programme, and the EIA report on CMP IV compiled by ERM.Admin.

V. Vehicle emission control strategy

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)898/96-97(02))

16. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment) (PAS/PEL(E)) briefed members on the Administration’s paper on integrated vehicle emission control strategy. Members noted that to abate air pollution arising from diesel vehicle emissions, the Administration would take the following actions -

  1. to launch a trial of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) taxis and, subject to the outcome of the trial, to propose a plan for introducing LPG vehicles as clean alternatives to diesel vehicles;

  2. to impose a stringent emission standard on respirable suspended particulates (RSP) which would likely preclude new diesel private vehicles from first registration;

  3. to tighten vehicle emission and fuel standards for newly registered large diesel vehicles and small diesel vehicles from April 1997 and April 1998 respectively;

  4. to strengthen the annual inspection of in-service commercial vehicles by including a more thorough emission check;

  5. to introduce dynamometer test to simulate on-road load conditions of vehicles to make the smoke check more revealing of their actual state;

  6. to consider increasing the current fine for emission offences; and

  7. to enhance the education of vehicle owners on the need for proper maintenance of vehicles and to develop environmentally friendly driving habits.

17. In response to a member’s question, PAS/PEL(E) clarified that the term "diesel private vehicles", as defined in the current transport laws, referred to private cars only. There were at present about 4,000 in-service diesel private vehicles, increasing at an annual first registration rate of around 270.

Enforcement against smoky vehicles

18. A member opined that enforcement against smoky vehicles should not be over-dependent on the Smoky Vehicle Control Programme under which accredited persons were responsible for spotting and reporting smoky vehicles to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). This was because during the lead time between reporting and the subsequent inspection, the condition of a vehicle might have changed which might give rise to dispute. To ensure fairness, road-side spotting was preferred.

19. In response, PAS/PEL(E) explained that road-side spotting was already playing an important role in the control of smoky vehicles. Under the present system, a smoky vehicle would be stopped by a traffic policeman who would administer a free acceleration smoke test on the spot. If the vehicle was found to emit excessive smoke, a fixed penalty ticket would be issued. The current level of fine was $450. Around 2600 and 2365 fixed penalty tickets were issued on smoky vehicles in 1995 and 1996 respectively. The Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) then highlighted the difficulties in further expanding road-side spotting. First, there were not many suitable locations to allow the Police to stop large vehicles by the road side. Second, the effectiveness of road-side spotting was compromised by communication amongst taxi drivers who alerted each other to the whereabouts of smoky vehicle traps. In the Administration’s view, the Smoky Vehicle Control Programme was already very fair which was evident in the high percentage of smoky vehicles spotted repeatedly. As a matter of fact, owners had 18 days to make good their spotted vehicles before taking them for inspection at designated testing centres.

20. Members opined that to tackle the problem of smoky vehicles at source, the Administration should aim at improving the general standard of vehicle maintenance by extensive use of dynamometer tests, upgrading the standards of car repairers and introducing a class system in respect of garages. The Chairman added that all these measures should be supplemented by educating vehicle owners to put environmental considerations before financial considerations in maintaining their vehicles.

21. The Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Air) (ADEP(A)) noted members’ points and stressed that one of the purposes for introducing dynamometer smoke test was to enhance the maintenance standard of the vehicle servicing trade. He explained that the dynamometer smoke test could reveal better the maintenance condition of a vehicle. That had been confirmed in an evaluation done by EPD, which found that 40% of the vehicles that passed the current free acceleration smoke test failed the dynamometer smoke test. than 40%, was to enhance technical skills in the field. However, this would take some time to achieve as staff training both in the Government and the private sector was necessary. Although there were designated smoky vehicle testing maintenance centres, it was inappropriate for the Government to compel vehicle owners to use their maintenance services.

22. Members stressed the need to tackle vehicle emissions which were not necessarily smoke. In response, ADEP(A) said that apart from bringing down the ambient concentrations of the most harmful air pollutant, RSP, the planned actions outlined in paragraph 16 above would also have the effect of greatly reducing the emission of nitrogen dioxide and hydrocarbon. In addition, LPG vehicles also emitted less in respect of other pollutants and could effect an overall improvement.effect an overall improvement.

LPG vehicles as an alternative to diesel vehicles

23. Members opined that the trial of LPG taxis should be launched as early as possible and that the switch to gas fuel should cover other types of vehicles as well. They suggested that to encourage the switch to LPG, the Administration should consider exempting LPG vehicles from first registration tax.

24. In response, PAS/PEL(E) made the following points -

  1. It was the intention of the Administration to launch the trial as early as possible. However, there was the need to examine in detail the safety requirements for LPG filling stations and transport activities, the availability of sufficient potential sites suitable for use as filling stations, the maintenance requirements and facilities and other related matters such as training of mechanics. All these, including the procurement of LPG taxis, would take time.

  2. While LPG taxis and LPG single-decker buses were readily available from Japan and Europe respectively, there were no ready suppliers for LPG vehicles in the medium range. Moreover, there might be technical difficulties for local buses to switch to LPG because most were double-deckers which might not have rooms for the cylinders. Nonetheless, once the plan for introducing LPG vehicles on a large scale in Hong Kong was finalised, the Administration would actively liaise with major vehicle manufacturers to meet Hong Kong’s needs.

  3. The Administration would consider the need for fiscal incentives in the light of the findings of the trial run should it decide to introduce LPG vehicles on a large scale in Hong Kong.

25. A member of the Democratic Party expressed the party’s support for introducing LPG vehicles in Hong Kong but stressed the need to tighten up existing planning standards and guidelines for site identification of filling stations to avoid creating a public nuisance.

26. Since the transport trades had strongly objected to the diesel-to-petrol proposal, the Chairman emphasised the need to consult the trades on the proposed switch to LPG. In response, PAS/PEL(E) assured members that the Administration had been closely liaising and co-operating with the trades on the proposed switch and had enlisted their assistance in the trial of LPG taxis. ensure that the trades would not suffer any financial loss in switching to LPG vehicles. Should the trial scheme indicate a likely increase in operation cost, the Administration would consider introducing economic incentives for the switch.

27. As regards the Administration’s other planned actions mentioned in paragraph 16 above, members had the following comments -

  1. As the number of diesel private cars was too small to make any significant impact on the environment, the Administration should tighten up emission standards in respect of diesel commercial vehicles to such a level as to preclude their first registration.

  2. Given that taxis and mini-buses in Hong Kong were mainly from Japan, the Administration should urge Japanese vehicle manufacturers to adopt European emission standards for vehicles manufactured for the Hong Kong market. In particular, the Administration should tighten up the emission standards of heavy diesel vehicles as soon as practicable.

  3. Apart from launching publicity campaigns, the Administration should introduce legislative measures against emissions from idling vehicles.

  4. Non-government organisations such as the Hong Kong Automobile Association (HKAA) should be enlisted to assist in education and publicity activities.

28. In response, PAS/PEL(E) and ADEP(A) thanked members for their comments and made the following points -

  1. Preclusion from first registration

    Preclusion from first registration was not the only way considered by the Administration in controlling diesel vehicles. For example, if the outcome of the trial of LPG taxis was positive, the Administration would propose a plan to introduce LPG vehicles on a large scale in Hong Kong as clean alternatives to diesel vehicles.

  2. Emission standards

    It was the Administration’s established policy to adopt the most stringent emission standards once they were technologically and practically feasible. As early as 1995, all vehicles were required to meet the EURO I and EURO Phase I emission standards. While the standards for small diesel vehicles would be further tightened in April 1998 to bring them into line with the EURO Phase II emission standards, heavy diesel vehicles were required to meet the EURO II standards in April 1997 It was expected that this measure would further reduce their emission of RSP by up to 60%. In addition, the regular inspections for all commercial diesel vehicles, including heavy vehicles, would be tightened up in 1997..

  3. Legislative controls over idling vehicles

    The Administration was consulting overseas authorities on regulatory controls over idling vehicles and their enforcement, and would examine, in the light of the information collated, the practicability of imposing such controls in Hong Kong.

  4. Education and publicity

    The Administration had already sought the assistance of HKAA and district offices in distributing information leaflets on emission controls.

29.The Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport (PAS/T) agreed to examine a member’s proposal to introduce the trolley bus system into Hong Kong to improve air quality. She emphasised that it was the policy of the Transport Branch to explore in consultation with EPD the viability of less polluting means of transport so as to improve the environment. At the Chairman’s request, PAS/T undertook to convey to the Transport Branch the Panel’s request for inclusion of environmental considerations in its performance pledge and to provide a response.Admin.

VI.Creation of five posts in the Environmental Protection Department

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)898/96-97(03))

30. DEP briefed members on the Administration’s paper. He said that the continuing rapid urban and infrastructure development, the increasing pollution control activities and demand for waste disposal services, and the rising expectations of the community for a better environment had increased the complexity and expanded the services of EPD. There was thus a need to strengthen the directorate structure of EPD. The Administration would seek funding approval from the Establishment Subcommittee on 26 February 1997 for the creation of the following five permanent posts of Principal Environmental Protection Officer (PEPO) -

  1. PEPO (Special Waste Facilities);

  2. PEPO (Assessment and Audit);

  3. PEPO (Motor Vehicle Emissions);

  4. PEPO (Local Control Urban East); and

  5. PEPO (Corporate Services).

30. Members were concerned about the improvements to EPD’s work as a result of strengthened directorate structure. They opined that there were much rooms for EPD to improve its efficiency such as in expediting approval of planning applications, stepping up enforcement actions against environmental offences, and implementing the landfill charging scheme at an early date.

31.. In response, DEP made the following points -

  1. EPD was fully aware of the need to expedite the production of land for housing. EPD had never been the main cause of delay since all departments involved in the process had a role to play. With the addition of five directorate posts to EPD, EPD should be able to better respond to the increased pressure for additional housing. EPD was proposing to restructure itself with the strengthened directorate support. It would transfer the Noise Policy Group from the Air and Noise Division to the Environmental Assessment and Administration Division and to rename the group and the division as Noise Management Policy Group and Environmental Assessment and Noise Division. This would enhance the efficiency in relation to land use approval.

  2. The landfill charging scheme was delayed because of objection from the trades, not of staff shortage in EPD. As for prosecution figures, EPD would always act according to needs. In fact, as indicated by the list of prosecution results published monthly, EPD was already taking a significant number of cases to the court. EPD realised the need to put more resources in enforcement as early as five years ago. Since then, the majority of additional non-directorate posts had been placed into the local control offices to step up enforcementwork.

32. In reply to the Chairman’s question, DEP confirmed that the additional directorate posts would be filled by internal promotion.

33. Members noted the funding proposal.

34. The meeting ended at 12:50 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
25 March 1997

Last Updated on 18 August 1998