Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)240
(These minutes have
been seen by the

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 22 August 1997, at 8:30 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin (Chairman)
Hon LAU Kong-wah (Deputy Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon IP Kwok-him

Members absent :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Henry WU
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public officers attending :

All items

Mr Benjamin TANG
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)

Mr Rob LAW
Director of Environment Protection

Item V

Miss Vivian KO
Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)

Mr Benny WONG
Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Waste Facilities)

Officer in Charge (Facilities Planning)

Item VI

Acting Deputy Secretary for Works (Programme and Resources)

Director of Drainage Services

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1 (Atg)

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)102)

The minutes of the meeting held on 22 July 1997 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
2. Members agreed that the following subjects would be discussed -

  1. at the next regular Panel meeting scheduled for 19 September 1997 -

    1. Pilot scheme for liquefied petroleum gas taxis; and

    2. Air pollution caused by construction dust, vehicle emissions etc.

  2. at the Panel meeting on 24 October 1997

    1. Centralised incineration facility (to be discussed jointly with the Panel on Health Services); and

    2. Trade Effluent Surcharge.

III. Information paper issued since last meeting
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)123)

3. Members noted the information paper issued since last meeting.

IV. Briefing on the work of Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau concerning environmental protection
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)150(01)

4.The Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment) (DS/PEL) highlighted the salient points of the paper on the work of the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau (PELB) concerning environmental protection.

Noise pollution

5.In response to the Chairman ' s enquiry about the acceptable level of noise, the Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) explained that according to environmental planning standards, the acceptable level of noise was 65 decibels on the external facade of schools. Ideally schools should not be situated in areas with noise levels exceeding this standard. However, if schools had to be situated in these areas because of difficulties in locating suitable sites, the Education Department would ensure that noise mitigation measures such as provision of acoustic window insulation and air conditioning were taken to provide a satisfactory teaching environment.

6.Members expressed concern about noise nuisance caused by renovation at commercial buildings, particularly during office hours. They suggested that renovation works in commercial buildings should be confined to after office hours and that the use of certain types of noisy construction equipment during certain hours should be further restricted.

7.In response, DEP explained that protection from noise was only limited to sensitive receivers such as residential areas, schools, hospitals, clinics and courtrooms, etc. As it was simply not possible to disallow renovation or to perform the works in a quiet manner, a compromised position had been reached under the Noise Control Ordinance (Cap. 400), which provided for statutory controls to restrict and reduce specific sources of environmental noises. Referring to members ' suggestion to further limit the hours of permitted use of noisy equipment, DEP said that the construction industry would likely raise objection to this. He stressed that although the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) would like to provide the community with a higher degree of protection from noise, a line had to be drawn somewhere and the law in place had already represented the balanced view. Nevertheless, consideration would be given to members ' suggestion.Admin

Air pollution

8.A member was concerned about the poor air quality in recent days and the sources of air pollution in Hong Kong. DEP explained that air pollution was attributed to a combination of factors. The sources came from both China and Hong Kong itself. Under normal circumstances, air pollution was almost entirely caused by local factors. However, under unusual weather conditions such as typhoons, there would be a greater contribution of pollution from China. Over the years, it was observed that when the wind came from north-west, the visibility in Hong Kong would decrease. The increased industrialisation and economic activities in Shenzhen and Guangdong had undoubtedly contributed to air pollution in Hong Kong. Equally, Hong Kong had also contributed to the pollution problem across the border.

9.As regards concern about the odour problem associated with thinners used in renovation works, DEP stated that control on the use of thinners was under the ambit of the Labour Department. He undertook to check and confirm in writing EPD ' s role in monitoring the use of thinners.Admin

Water pollution

10.Addressing a member ' s concern over possible back-flow of discharged effluent to Hong Kong shores from sewage outfalls, DS/PEL explained that given the length of the outfalls, such incidents were quite unlikely. Moreover, the discharged effluent had undergone chemically enhanced primary treatment at the sewage treatment plant on Stonecutters Island and was of acceptable quality.

11.As to the pollution of Shing Mun River, DEP explained that the crux of the problem lay in the accumulation of contaminated mud at the river bed caused by the slow flow of the river. A consultancy study was being undertaken to work out the best method to deal with the contaminated mud. The sources of pollution were also being dealt with separately. At members ' request, DEP agreed to provide a situation report on pollution of Shing Mun River.Admin

Environmental education

12.On the provision of education on environmental protection, DEP agreed with members that public education, which should involve a number of departments and organisations, was important. Briefly, the Education Department was responsible for working out the curriculum which aimed at introducing environmental education across the whole spectrum of school activities. EPD provided a series of lectures and talks on environmental protection to schools every year. The Education Subgroup of the Environmental Campaign Committee organised programmes to promote students ' awareness of environmental protection, one of which was the Student Environmental Protection Ambassador Scheme. In gist, there was already a wide range of environmental education activities.

Regional and international co-operation

13.Members noted that the Hong Kong-Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group had been set up to enhance co-operation and co-ordination between Hong Kong and Guangdong in pollution control efforts in areas of mutual concern. In the international arena, Hong Kong was represented at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation and played an active role in its environmental protection work. The Basel Convention, which dealt with the international trade in hazardous and contaminated waste had also been extended to Hong Kong. In short, Hong Kong had adopted international standards and practices in the protection of the environment.

Other issues

14.In reply to a member ' s enquiry about the need for additional manpower in EPD to carry out its work, DEP stated that there was sufficient manpower to deal with the different priority tasks. In fact, EPD was a relatively large department by international standards having regard to its purview.

15.A member suggested that the Administration should take more proactive measures in enhancing public awareness of environmental protection. In mapping out environmental protection policies, it should also make reference to experience of more developed countries, particularly on the subject of segregation and recycling of waste.

V. Consultation Paper on Draft Waste Reduction Plan for Hong Kong
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)150(02) and (03))

16.DS/PEL briefly reported the progress of the public consultation on the draft Waste Reduction Plan (the Plan). The objectives of the Plan were to reduce the amount of waste requiring disposal, to prolong the life of landfills, and to reduce the growing costs involved in transporting, treating and disposing of waste. As part of the Plan, the Administration would examine the introduction of modern waste-to-energy incinerators into Hong Kong.

Government ' s role

17.Members in general agreed that waste reduction should be the main approach of Hong Kong ' s waste management strategy, in particular the introduction of modern waste-to-energy incinerators into Hong Kong to reduce the volume of waste. However, they felt that for the Plan to be successful, there should be better co-ordination between EPD and other Government departments. Members quoted the recent press report on the bulk purchase of two years ' supply of ordinary photocopying paper by the Government Supplies Department which reflected EPD ' s failure in securing the support of other government departments for the green purchasing scheme. Members also opined that the Government should play an active role in ensuring that reusable waste would be segregated, collected and transported to recycling companies from waste generators, for example, by encouraging waste segregation measures when entering into contracts with cleaning companies.

18.In response, representatives of the Administration made the following points -

  1. Although the use of recycled paper was advocated on environmental grounds and supported by both PELB and EPD, there were cost implications which had to be considered by the Finance Bureau.

  2. The Administration would encourage the implementation of waste reduction and segregation measures within government and the community through a partnership approach which would allow greater flexibility than a mandatory system. The network of green managers existed in Government departments assisted in overseeing matters associated with environmental practices which included waste segregation, recycling as well as energy efficiency and conservation measures. Efforts were also made to enhance the roles of the Municipal Councils, the Housing Authority and the Housing Society in waste reduction and recovery. Where necessary, legislative measures to support waste reduction and recovery process would be initiated.

  3. The Administration acknowledged the need for co-ordinated implementation of waste recovery and recycling measures. However, recycling in Hong Kong was still very much market-driven and only materials with high commercial values had a high recovery rate.

19.Referring to the Administration ' s comment on the cost implications of recycled paper, the Chairman pointed out that by taking the lead in preferentially purchasing recycled paper and other environmentally friendly products, the Government could provide the necessary incentive to the recycling industry. This would help achieve greater economies of scale in production and improvement in quality, and would lower production costs and therefore the prices of recycled products. A member emphasised the need for the Administration to be more proactive in promoting waste recycling rather than relying on market-driven forces.

20.In response, DS/PEL stressed that with the implementation of the Plan in mid-1998, PELB would be able to play a better co-ordinating role in encouraging participation through Government and non-Government partnership. Consideration would be given to providing land to facilitate more recycling activities. Efforts would also be made to promote the Preferential Purchasing Scheme to encourage purchase of products with high recycled content.

Waste management strategy

21.Some members criticised the Administration ' s waste management strategy which was considered inconsistent, wavering between incineration and landfill disposal. They opined that consultants should be commissioned to carry out more detailed studies and planning before deciding on Hong Kong ' s waste management strategies, taking into consideration Hong Kong ' s land constraints. They also wanted to know the cost implications of using incineration as a means for bulk disposal of waste. Other members suggested that the Administration should make reference to experience in more densely populated countries like Japan. Consideration should be given to introducing more advanced incineration technologies to Hong Kong, particularly those which were able to convert waste into energy.

22.DEP explained that the old-style incinerators located in urban areas were causing tremendous pollution problems. They were inefficient and had to be shut down. Although consultants had been employed in designing landfills, the growth in certain types of waste had far exceeded expectation, leading to a much shortened life span. The use of incineration as a means of waste disposal was thus anticipated in the longer term. Members were assured that the new waste-to-energy incineration technology would be much more efficient than conventional incinerators and would generate less pollution problems. The emissions of old-style incinerators contained unsatisfactory levels of dust, acidic oxides and carcinogenic substances. With the latest advancement in technology, the level of toxic pollutants emitted from new incinerators could be drastically reduced to levels acceptable by the World Health Organisation through better design and operation. However, there would still be the need to choose the incinerator sites very carefully and the Administration would conduct feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments to identify suitable sites for the new incinerators. As for Japan, it had been learnt that the emission of carcinogenic substances from their urban incinerators, an issue which was not addressed in the past, had become a hot topic of concern by the people.


23.Responding to a member ' s queries on Fig 1.1 of the Consultation Paper on the Plan showing the waste forecast from 1997 to 2011, ADEP explained that the waste forecast in the figure had already taken into account the projected population growth in the coming years. Regular reviews would be conducted to monitor the progress of the Plan. Major reviews would be done in the fourth and the eighth years and, if necessary, the Plan would be revised.

24.Concluding the discussion, the Chairman requested the Administration to consider members ' views in finalising the Plan by mid-1998.

VI.Sewage leaks
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)150(04) and CB(1)158)

25.DEP stressed that the spate of sewage leaks which resulted in the temporary closure of some beaches in Tuen Mun and Stanley were purely unprecedented accidents. These incidents did, however, highlight the inadequacy of existing communication channels between different government departments in emergency situations. As a result, the following improvement measures had been introduced -Admin

  1. An emergency action plan had been put in place to improve communication between the Drainage Services Department (DSD) and EPD. Under the plan, the relevant Chief Engineer of DSD would inform the Principal Officer of the relevant EPD Local Control Office by phone and by facsimile regarding sewage leakage incidents. If there was a possibility of beach water quality being adversely affected so that swimmers might be at risk, EPD would alert the Urban Services Department (USD) and the Regional Services Department (RSD) as soon as practicable which would then decide on the need for closure of the beach in question.

  2. A consultancy study would be funded by DSD and managed by EPD to identify the list of beaches susceptible to pollution by discharges from sewage treatment plants and to advise on short-term and long-term measures to reduce and eliminate the risks. The problems created by dry weather flow interception systems would be looked into. At members ' request, the Administration would provide information on the locations of dry weather flow interceptors adjacent to beaches.

  3. The beach monitoring programme was designed and operated by EPD for the general monitoring of beach water quality trends. In view of increased public concern, EPD had since 1 August 1997 increased the frequency of beach monitoring to weekly intervals during the bathing season. Weekly press releases were also issued for public reference.

  4. A new laboratory analytical method was being used for the analysis of beach water samples. This new method could reduce the time required for analysis from three to one and a half days.

26. In reply to members ' questions, DEP supplemented the following information -

  1. The beach monitoring programme covered all the 41 gazetted beaches in Hong Kong.

  2. There were no established international standards to specify a ' safe ' level of sewage pollution at beaches. The current laboratory method for determining E-coli was reckoned to be the quickest presently available. A new method just announced by the USEPA was being investigated.

27.A member expressed concern that information about sewage leakages affecting beach water was not conveyed to USD/RSD by DSD direct, but had to be routed through EPD, thereby delaying the closure of beaches. As the health of swimmers was at stake, they should be given first hand information about the quality of beach water. The Chairman proposed the establishment of a warning system on pollution of beaches.

28.In response, DEP explained that as soon as information was received on a pollution incident, EPD would exercise its professional judgement as to whether the nature of the incident would affect beach water quality. If so, EPD would not wait for the results of water analysis but would immediately advise USD/RSD on the possible need to close the beach, as was the case in the Stanley Main Beach incident. Water samples would then be taken to determine the extent of pollution and USD/RSD would be subsequently advised. The decision on whether or not to close the beach rested with USD/RSD. In response to members, DEP explained that where there was a pollution incident, USD/RSD would immediately issue press releases to warn the public about the water quality of specific beaches. If there was a need to close the beach, a red flag would be hoisted and a notice put up. USD/RSD staff stationed at the beach would also inform swimmers through megaphones about the incident.

29.In response to a member ' s suggestion to further increase the frequency of beach monitoring, DEP explained that beach water quality would not vary drastically except in the case of accidental sewage leakage. In fact, compared with other countries like the United Kingdom, monitoring done on a weekly basis in Hong Kong was more frequent. A higher frequency than this was not warranted. DEP, however, drew members ' attention to the fact that after very heavy rainfall, beach water quality would tend to deteriorate because of discharges from overflowing septic tanks and the washing out of additional pollutants from the shores. Therefore, in making press announcements, EPD would include a standard statement to remind the public of the likely worsening of beach gradings after heavy rainfall. The public would be advised not to swim in beaches graded three or four for a few days after heavy rainfall. Where necessary, EPD would consider increasing the frequency of monitoring on a beach by beach basis.

30.As regards a member ' s enquiry on the possibility of further shortening the time required for analysing water samples, i.e. one and a half days, DEP explained that the test would take time because of the need for culture growth of bacteria. The Department had already adopted the fastest method available and would continue to explore ways to further shorten the analysis process.

31.The Director of Drainage Services (DDS) confirmed the revised procedure for responding to emergency situations which might affect beach water quality. DSD had overhauled the communication process and upgraded the levels of communication to avoid recurrence of similar incidents. It was hoped that with the completion of the consultancy study mentioned in para 25(b), the Administration would put in place a more comprehensive emergency response plan. Referring to the Tuen Mun incident, DDS explained that this was caused by the contractor. The existing sewage outfall was 900 metres long and consisted of jointed concrete pipes. This was being replaced by an outfall 1700 metres long consisting of continuous welded steel pipe which would reduce the risk of leakage. He assured members that DSD would continue to upgrade the design of systems to ensure that problems were brought to the immediate attention of operators of sewage plants. Regular inspections of submarine outfalls were also carried out to ensure that these were in acceptable conditions.

32.On how marine works in the vicinity of submarine outfalls should be monitored, DDS said that subject to Marine Department ' s approval, DSD would insist on the use of marker buoys to delineate restricted zones and to facilitate monitoring by DSD staff. Diver inspections were also widely used for submarine outfall maintenance. To go further, consideration would be given to requiring diver inspection as a condition for approval of commencement of works.

33.Concluding the discussion, members stressed the need for better enforcement of environmental laws in the protection of water quality and for improvements in communication between different government departments.

34.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 11:00 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
15 September 1997