Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)910/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Friday, 11 December 1998, at 10:45 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)
Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Member absent :

Hon Bernard CHAN

Public officers attending :

For all items

Deputy Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)

For item IV

Mr Howard CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)

Mr TSE Chin-wan
Assistant Director (Air)
Environmental Protection Department

Dr LAM Kwok-lun, Alain
Acting Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Air Policy)
Environmental Protection Department

For items VI and VII

Mr Danny TSUI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)

For item VI

Dr Malcolm BROOM
Principal Environmental Protection Officer
(Water Policy and Planning)
Environmental Protection Department

For item VII

Assistant Director (Conservation)
Agriculture and Fisheries Department

By invitation :

Friends of the Earth

Dr CHENG Luk-ki
Campaign Co-ordinator

Green Lantau Association

Executive Committee member

Mr PANG Yiu-kai

Kadoorie Farm

Mr Billy HAU

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(1)516/98-99)

The minutes of meeting on 15 October 1998 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next regular meeting to be held on 8 January 1999 -

  1. sustainable transport policy; and

  2. future handling of policy responsibility for the environment.

III Information papers issued since last meeting
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)497/98-99 - Public Consultation Report on Sustainable Development in Hong Kong for the 21st Century)

3. Members noted the Report.

IV Control of indoor air pollution
(LC Paper No. CB(1)583/98-99(01))

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment 1) (PAS/PEL(E1)) briefly introduced the background to the consultancy study on "Indoor Air Pollution in Offices and Public Places" (the Study). With the aid of a visualizer, the Acting Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Air Policy) (PEPO(AP) (Atg)) presented the main findings and recommendations of the Study as detailed in the paper.

5. Noting that the Administration intended to conduct a review on the control of indoor air quality three years after implementation of the indoor air quality programme, Dr LEONG Che-hung queried the long lapse of time before such a review would be undertaken. Since many departments were now involved in tackling indoor air quality problem, Dr LEONG was concerned about co-ordination amongst departments in enforcement and the role of the Inter-departmental Indoor Air Quality Management Group (the Group) in this respect. With the prohibition of smoking in public places which took effect on 1 July 1998, Dr LEONG also sought information on enforcement of the law, in particular on the number of prosecution actions taken.

6. PAS/PEL(E1) said that the Consultancy Study recommended that a review be conducted three years after implementation of the indoor air quality programme. The Study also proposed to develop a more comprehensive management scheme for further consideration. The purpose of setting up the Group was to co-ordinate the work and responsibilities of various departments on indoor air quality. The Administration would provide the prosecution statistics in respect of smoking in public places after the operation of the relevant provisions on 1 July 1998.Admin.

7. The Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Air) (AD/EPD) supplemented that the Group, which comprised representatives from Department of Health, the two municipal services departments, Environmental Protection Department and relevant bureaux, would co-ordinate the development on the control of indoor air quality. As smoking was one of the main causes of poor air quality, its effect would be monitored by the Group. The actual enforcement action under the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance would be undertaken by the departments concerned. As regards enforcement relating to indoor air quality, AD/EPD said that the control of indoor air quality in Hong Kong was at present implemented through a series of ordinances and regulations which spread over a number of government departments. Although these statutory provisions could indirectly exert certain control on indoor air quality, there was neither a specific legislation in this regard nor an enforcement body to take up complaint cases of such a nature in Hong Kong.

8. As regards measures to control indoor air quality, AD/EPD said that the first step was to develop indoor air quality objectives. In the interim, a draft Code of Practice had been prepared by the consultant. This Code of Practice outlined a set of indoor air quality objectives and guidelines on good practices which should be adopted by practising professional and building management. The Study also recommended that the provisions of certain existing regulations should be strengthened to address indoor air pollution. The Administration hoped that with the issue of a Code of Practice and a set of indoor air quality objectives, coupled with public education, the problem of indoor air pollution could be kept under control. The Administration had yet to formulate a comprehensive management scheme and the enforcement mechanism and would consult the public on these matters. The initial thinking was that a department would be designated with the responsibility for co-ordinating enforcement actions such that complaint cases could be properly dealt with.

9. The Chairman sought detailed information on the extent of indoor air pollution in Hong Kong, AD/EPD advised that the findings of the Study showed that the situation in Hong Kong was very similar to other developed countries. About one-third of the occupants surveyed were dissatisfied with the indoor air quality of their respective buildings. Their perception of indoor air quality was found to have significant correlation with the actual measurement results including temperature, humidity, air change per hour, and levels of major air pollutants. Occasional high levels of pollutants such as carbon dioxide which exceeded internationally accepted limits were measured in some offices and public places. These were mainly caused by high occupancy density and inadequate ventilation.

10. Referring to Tables 1 and 2 of the paper, the Chairman sought further clarification on the relationship between levels of pollutants and their effects on health. In response, PEPO (AP) (Atg) advised as follows-

Office buildings

(a)The levels of respirable suspended particulates, nicotine, benzene, fungi and ozone in most of the offices under study were found to be within the limits of the proposed indoor air quality objectives. The levels of carbon dioxide and formaldehyde in about 30% of the offices under study exceeded the proposed objectives. The levels of bacterial count in about 20% of the offices did not meet the proposed objective.


(b) About 80% of the restaurants under study were found to have levels of carbon dioxide exceeding the proposed objective, but the proposed objectives in respect of the levels of benzene and bacterial count were met. Moreover, about 60% of restaurants had high levels of respirable suspended particulates and 50% of them had high level of formaldehyde.

Shopping malls

(c) Of the eight shopping malls under study, about 40%, 75% and 25% of them had levels of carbon dioxide, bacterial count and fungal count respectively higher than the proposed indoor air quality objectives. Nevertheless, such count was not meant to be a direct indicator of health risk but served as a screening test for further investigation.


(d) The levels of nicotine and other pollutants in cinemas were within the proposed objectives, but the levels of carbon dioxide and formaldehyde were on the high side.

11. Noting that the level of carbon dioxide had exceeded the proposed air quality objectives in almost all of the premises under study, the Chairman expressed concern about the consequences of exposure to such high levels. In response, AD/EPD said that carbon dioxide itself was not an important pollutant in terms of adverse health effect. Prolonged exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide would make people tired and sleepy but it posed no significant health risk. Its concentration in an indoor environment was a good indicator of the effectiveness of the ventilation system and adequacy of fresh air. The survey results indicated that poorly performing and inadequate ventilation systems were the most common cause of indoor air pollution.

12. Mr LAU Kong-wah was concerned about the high levels of pollutants in restaurants and offices as compared with shopping malls and cinemas, in particular about the level of formaldehyde in restaurants which was nine times the proposed air quality objectives. AD/EPD responded that formaldehyde mainly came from new furniture, materials used in renovation works, and carpet cleansing chemicals. The pollutant levels of formaldehyde would vary depending on the location where the measurement was made and the ventilation of the chosen location. The best way to reduce pollutant concentration was to ensure good ventilation and adequacy of fresh air. This means would be stipulated in the Code of Practice.

13. In response to Mr CHAN Wing-chan's concern about the health effects on restaurant workers exposed to high concentration of pollutants for a long period of time, PEPO(AP) (Atg) advised that the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance enforced by the Labour Department covered all workplaces including restaurants. Occupational Exposure Limits (OEL) were adopted by the Labour Department to protect the health of employees. The Labour Department would take necessary action against employers for breaches of OEL.

14. Prof NG Ching-fai queried whether the past incidents of schools affected by unknown sources of gases were related to poor air quality. He also enquired whether it should be a cause for concern if the level of benzene was two to three times the proposed objectives. AD/EPD acknowledged that some of the pollutant levels were excessively high and should be kept under control. However, as shown in Tables 1 and 2, the pollutant levels in 95% of the buildings surveyed did not deviate significantly from the proposed objectives and compared well with the highest level recorded.

15. On members' concern as to whether proper warning had been given to the premises under survey which was found to have an alarming level of pollutants, PAS/PEL(E1) said that he understood the premises concerned had been notified and advised to take measures to rectify the situation.

16. Mr LAU Kong-wah pointed out the need for the Administration to educate the public about the harmful effects of pollutants and the means to improve indoor air quality before consideration be given to introducing legislation in this regard. Mr LAW Chi-kwong considered it important to educate the public on the potential harmful effects of materials commonly found in households which contained carcinogenic substances and other pollutants. Miss CHOY So-yuk stressed the importance of control over the use of chemicals which emit pollutants. The Administration noted members' concerns and agreed to provide a detailed analysis of the survey results and the draft Code of Practice.

17. The Chairman questioned the absence of recorded levels of radon and asbestos in Tables 1 and 2. AD/EPD said that since a lot of researches and studies had been conducted on these substances, the consultant had not included them in the survey. There were established practices in dealing with radon and asbestos. In response to members, the Administration would include radon and asbestos in the detailed analysis of survey results to be provided to members.

18. Members considered it necessary to further discuss the subject at the next meeting on 8 January 1999. The Chairman said that it would be useful to have expert advice in interpreting the results of the surveys. She suggested that members should contact the Clerk if they had any recommendation on experts to be invited.

V Any other business

19. Members agreed to change the order of agenda items and invite the Administration to give a brief account of its discussion with representatives of the waste recycling trade on 9 December 1998 (item originally scheduled under "Any other business").

20. The Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment) (DS/PEL) reported that about 50 persons attended the meeting, including representatives from the Hong Kong Waste Paper Association (exporters), the Environment Recyclers Association (collectors), and Waste Management Association. At the meeting the trade representatives requested Government to -

  1. provide interest-free or low interest loans;

  2. stop import of waste paper;

  3. provide land at low premiums/rents for storing and baling of paper waste;

  4. waive charges at public cargo working areas;

  5. introduce waste paper recycling schemes similar to those adopted by overseas countries;

  6. negotiate with a private company owned by the Mainland authorities with a view to lowering their import inspection charges for waste paper;

  7. provide land for temporary storage of waste paper;

  8. provide direct subsidies of $200 per tonne of waste paper;

  9. give policy support to the recycling industry;

  10. reduce diesel fuel tax and vehicle licence fees;

  11. provide tax and fiscal concessions;

  12. establish a fund to support the market price of waste paper;

  13. give preference to waste collectors applying for loan under the Special Finance Scheme for Small to Medium Enterprises; and

  14. provide more paper collection bins or cages.

21. DS/PEL said that the Administration would consider whatever assistance that could be given, except direct subsidies. The Administration was prepared to offer sites at a lower premium, as well as other long and short term measures to assist the trade. However, the Administration was reluctant to get directly involved in the operation of commercial businesses. The trade representatives had expressed disappointment over the Administration's stance. A further meeting would be held in the following week to follow up on the proposals put forward by the trade.

22. Miss CHOY So-yuk suggested that to save land costs, more waste collection centres should be set up at barges where initial processing of waste could take place. She expressed concern about depletion of landfills if waste continued to increase. She called on the Administration to work out an early solution to the problem faced by recyclers. In response, DS/PEL said that very little extra paper was being transferred to landfills at the moment after the closure of Concordia Paper Company. There was not yet any sign of a new problem. A full report would be provided to members at the next Panel meeting.

23. Mr LAU Kong-wah reiterated his earlier request for information on a breakdown on the costs of waste management and a comparison of such costs with other countries. Mrs Miriam LAU requested the Administration to provide an information paper on Government's policy on collection and recycling of waste including the difficulties experienced by the recycling trade and how these could be overcome. She was shocked at the Government's apathy over the plight of waste recyclers and considered that a more comprehensive solution was needed to tackle the issue in the long run.Admin.

24. In response, DS/PEL said that the Waste Reduction Framework Plan covered many aspects of waste management including recycling. However, the key issue was waste avoidance and minimisation. He agreed that a better structure was needed in waste management and that recycling was an important part but there were other aspects in waste management.

25. The Chairman said that members were clearly interested in recycling of waste and that it would create a lot of frustration in LegCo if the situation remained unresolved. Members agreed to follow up on the matter at the meeting on 8 January 1999. As there would be four discussion items for the next regular Panel meetings, members agreed to hold a special meeting on 15 January 1999 to discuss the subjects of sustainable transport policy and future handling of policy responsibility for the environment.

(Post-meeting note : since the proposal to create a new bureau to handle food safety and environment was under discussion, members agreed not to discuss the future handling of policy responsibility for the environment for the time being.)

VI Toxic pollutants control strategy study
(LC Paper No. CB(1)583/98-99(02))

26. The Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Water Policy and Planning) (PEPO(WPP)) briefed members on the Administration's proposal to commission a study to address the toxic pollutants problem in Hong Kong's marine environment. He said that the need for the study was prompted by the general recognition that some man-made chemicals could exert very powerful effects even at very low levels in the environment. These chemicals were, however, very difficult to detect. While some were present in sewage, many were likely to find their way into the environment from diffuse sources such as surface water run-off from farmland, golf courses and roads. These chemicals might directly affect the health of the marine flora and fauna once they found their way into the marine environment. Since they had the potential of accumulating in the food chain, they could exert toxic effect on human beings through consumption of seafood. One of the main concerns about these toxic pollutants was their effect on Chinese White Dolphins. PEPO (WPP) referred members to the report produced by the Swire Institute of Marine Sciences which identified high levels of certain organic chemicals in the flesh of dolphins. As regards the accumulation of pollutants through the food chain, it was noted through the environmental monitoring of sediments that these contain substantial concentration of certain organic chemicals. These chemicals would have the potential of entering the food chain. There was hence a need to manage the situation by targetting potential sources of key contaminants of concern. The Administration proposed to conduct a screening exercise to examine which chemicals were generally recognized as potentially hazardous to the environment and to focus on those which might be of concern to Hong Kong. A framework for managing these pollutants would then be developed. Members noted that the Administration intended to seek funding approval for the study from the Finance Committee at its meeting on 18 December 1998.

27. Mr WONG Yung-kan said that the Administration had previously assured members that results of studies showed no adverse environmental impact on marine ecology associated with the direct discharge of sewage. If this was the case, there should be no need to undertake any study on toxic pollutants in the marine environment. He queried if the Administration had provided conflicting advice on different occasions.

28. PEPO(WPP) said that on the basis of information available, the Administration did not consider that direct discharge of sewage would give rise to toxic pollutants because these had been kept under control through the existing arrangements. The concern was mainly on diffuse sources of toxic substances, i.e. sources which were not easily controlled. The need for the study did not in any way invalidate the Administration's previous advice. PEPO(WPP) further said that the study would review the findings of earlier work as part of the process of focusing on the likely sources of the contaminants of concern. Members in general supported the study and requested the Administration to provide its terms of reference.Admin.

VII Conservation Strategy for Lantau
(LC Paper Nos. CB(1)583/98-99(03), (04) and (05))

Meeting with deputations

29. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Bill LEVERETT of the Green Lantau Association briefly introduced the report entitled "A Conservation Strategy for Lantau" which was prepared by the Green Lantau Association, The Conservancy Association, Friends of the Earth, Green Power, Hong Kong Marine Conservation Society, World Wide Fund for Nature, Hong Kong and numerous experts from academic and private sectors. Mr LEVERETT said that Lantau was an ecological, scenic and recreational resource for Hong Kong people. The airport core projects however had caused severe impact to the northern part of the island, destroying nearly 25% of Lantau's coastline. It was in response to these development pressures that the report was compiled. The report attempted to identify areas which were in need of protection and conservation management. Mr LEVERETT then led members through the 16 recommendations proposed by the green groups which were summarized in the executive summary of the report.

30. With the aid of slides, Dr CHENG Luk-ki of the Friends of the Earth illustrated some of the irreplaceable resources of Lantau. These included fresh water and brackish wetlands, forest, fung shui woodlands, shrublands, etc Mr Billy HAU of Kadoorie Farm then explained the regional importance of terrestrial vertebrate species of Lantau Island, a note on which was tabled at the meeting.

31. The Chairman thanked the representatives of the green groups for preparing and presenting the report to members of the Panel.

Discussion with deputations and Administration

32. At the invitation of the Chairman, DS/PEL said that the Administration was thankful to the green groups for their efforts in compiling the report. He concurred that the unique features of Lantau that added to the character of Hong Kong would need to be conserved. To achieve this goal, the Administration had provided funding support for a survey on biodiversity. He stressed that the conservation strategy proposed would need to have the co-operation of residents of Lantau who played a vital role in maintaining and sustaining Lantau's features. In this connection, the Administration would be looking forward to working closely with the green groups and local residents in the protection of Lantau. The Administration was aware of the development pressures and was committed to working out mitigating measures in reducing the impact of development, particularly on the control over dumping. In response to the Chairman, the Administration agreed to provide a paper on new regulations on dumping.Admin.

33. On the ecological value of mangroves, Mr Billy HAU explained that mangroves provided important coastal habitats for a number of rare species of marine plants and animals. They served as important stop-over sites for migrating waterbirds as well as nursery grounds for fishes. They also protected the natural coastlines. The destruction of mangroves would have deleterious effects on the biodiversity of the coastal habitats.

34. DS/PEL supplemented that mangroves were important because they acted as natural filters for pollutants which were washed off the land from diffuse sources, e.g. nitrates and phosphates which might contribute to marine problems. Mangroves were ecologically useful in many ways. To compensate for the loss of mangroves in Lantau due to the airport development, a new mangrove habitat would be created on the disused salt-pans at Tai O. The mangrove replanting project would tie in with the proposed Tai O Sheltered Boat Anchorage Project and was expected to commence in 2002. The Administration was identifying suitable areas for the growth of mangroves in different parts of Hong Kong. It was working with the Mainland authorities on the growth of mangroves from seedlings. 35. As to the progress of designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Lantau, the Assistant Director (Conservation), Agriculture and Fisheries Department said that five sites in Lantau had already been designated as SSSI. The Agriculture and Fisheries Department had been working closely with the Planning Department on the conservation of Tai O, Tai Ho Wan and Tung Chung. Subject to planning approval in 2000, consideration would be given to designating these sites as SSSI. Members noted that no additional resources would be needed for such designation.

36. DS/PEL added that any site that had been designated as SSSI or country parks would be protected under the planning process. Efforts would also be made to protect potential SSSI and country parks extension. Given the development pressures and pending the results of the biodiversity survey, it had been very difficult for the Administration to assess which were the most important conservation areas. The work of green groups in the compilation of the report had been a valuable contribution. One of the objectives in the proposed re-organisation of the Administration was to include conservation policies under the environmental division of a new bureau.

37. Regarding the progress of the biodiversity survey, DS/PEL said that preliminary information had been made available to the Advisory Council on the Environment and the full report would be available by the end of 1999. In response to the Chairman, the Administration would provide a list of the projects to be undertaken between the end of 1998 and the completion date of the biodiversity survey which might affect the natural habitats in different parts of Hong Kong.Admin.

38. Dr CHENG Luk-ki was concerned about the environmental impact of the Lantau North-South road links project at Tai Ho Stream, which was the richest and most unique fresh water habitat in Hong Kong. AD/AFD explained that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies were required to be undertaken for all major infrastructural projects under the existing ordinance. These EIA studies would take account of the need for protection of ecologically sensitive areas and recommend suitable mitigating measures to be taken to minimize environmental impact. In response to members, the Administration would provide information on the road project at Tai Ho Stream and the ways to protect the fresh water habitat there.Admin.

39. Mr WONG Yung-kan requested representatives of the green groups to provide further information on the protection of Tai Ho Stream, in particular on how reclamation would affect the area. He considered it necessary to conduct research on the protection of different habitats in Lantau. He said that dumping at Sha Chau had affected fish catches in the region and posed a threat to the survival of Chinese White Dolphins.

40. Mrs Sophie LEUNG was concerned about the attitude of local residents to conservation of Lantau. Mr PANG Yui-kai of Green Lantau Association said that as a Tai O resident, he was aware that fishermen had been complaining about the reduction in fish catches in waters around Tai O. Although residents were aware that increased development would bring about economic benefits to the island, many were worried about the adverse effects of the implementation of works projects on the natural resources of Lantau, thereby affecting tourism and the fishing industry. He stressed the need for the Administration to consult local residents on any proposed major projects and keep them fully informed of their environmental impacts.

41. DS/PEL said that a sustainable conservation strategy for Hong Kong could not be imposed by the Government nor the green groups and that it should be derived from the whole community.

42. The Chairman said that the formulation of a policy on the protection of marine and terrestrial habitats was necessary. Members considered it important to take account of the views of local residents in formulating a conservation strategy for Lantau and suggested that the view of the Islands Provisional District Board on the report prepared by the group groups be sought. Members agreed to further discuss the subject of conservation strategy for Lantau in April 1999.

(Post-meeting note : a letter dated 17 December 1998 was issued to the Islands Provisional District Board.)

43. The meeting ended at 12:50 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
22 February 1999