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Cleanup as oil hits Hong Kong beaches

Meanwhile, government and community-led beach clean-ups continued to be held in different parts of the city on Wednesday, with dozens of residents filling bags with the sticky grease on Lamma Island’s Power Station Beach.

The spill comes at the height of summer, when visitors, campers and holiday makers throng to beaches and outlying islands, especially at weekends. It has deployed helicopters and nine ships to help find and collect the waste while workers at public beaches are using absorbent blankets and strips to contain the mess.

The impact on the territory’s marine life, which includes the endangered Chinese white dolphins – also known as pink dolphins – was not immediately clear.

Environmental groups said that oil has seeped up to four inches (10 cm) deep into Hong Kong’s sprawling, sandy beaches making it hard to clean.

Hong Kong has sweltered in temperatures of about 33 degrees Celsius for more than a week, with little relief expected soon, which some environmentalists fear could worsen the problem by oxidising the oil.

Apart from beaches which have been shut, the rest of Hong Kong’s verdant shoreline is likely to have been impacted with the feeding capabilities of many sea creatures such as barnacles, crabs and shells affected, Lee said.

The possibility of an algae bloom formed by decaying palm oil, which would compete with fish for oxygen, would be a huge threat.

Palm oil is commonly used in food packaging and cosmetics.

The congealed palm oil resembles clumps of snow or pieces of Styrofoam and has a consistency similar to Play-Doh.

The South China Morning Post reports Hong Kong government departments have picked up more than 93 tonnes of the oil, which has crystallized.

In July 2012, Typhoon Vicente caused six containers, or 150 tonnes, of plastic pellets to be lost at sea, leading to widespread pollution in Hong Kong waters.

Questions over two-day delay on notice of palm oil spill that left 11 Hong Kong beaches closed

Smelly, congealed clumps from spill in mainland waters mar island beauty spots in Hong Kong

Environmental experts have questioned why it took two days for mainland authorities to inform Hong Kong about a ship collision and palm oil spill that left nearly a dozen local beaches closed to the public at the weekend.

The accident took place on Thursday, but mainland authorities only reported the incident on Saturday. Affected Hong Kong residents learned of the spill on Sunday when beaches were closed.

“A notification mechanism [in place] should in theory state [the problem] as soon as possible but it’s hard to define how many days that is,” said Dr Tsang Po-keung, an associate professor of science and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s Advisory Council on the Environment.

“For some marine life, two days could be too late.”

Residents of Lamma and Lantau islands noticed congealed palm oil washed up on several beaches in the area on Sunday after it spilled into the sea when two boats crashed in mainland waters.

A similar substance was also spotted in Victoria Harbour.

Hung Shing Yeh Beach and Lo So Shing Beach on Lamma Island, as well as Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach and Tong Fuk Beach were all affected. So were both Upper and Lower Cheung Sha Beach.

Beaches at Repulse Bay, Middle Bay, South Bay, St Stephen’s Beach and Chung Hom Kok were also shut.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department hoisted the red flag at all 11 beaches, warning people not to go in the water. Parts of Cheung Chau were also reportedly affected.


Tsang said the notification mechanism should be modified to specify how many days authorities should be given to report such incidents.

“This time they may think it’s fine because it’s just palm oil, but what if next time it is gasoline?” he said.

City University chair professor of biology Paul Lam Kwan-sing said the spill did not amount to an environmental disaster but was “not a good thing”.

“Palm oil is a crystallised liquid … which will slowly be decomposed by micro-organisms. The problem is that it is a real eyesore for beachgoers,” he said.

He agreed that the notification mechanism needed to be faster and information flow more transparent.

“Both sides [Guangdong and Hong Kong] should work it out, establish a hotline and specify exactly under what circumstances the mechanism should be activated,” he said.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the beach closures came after “white, oily” substances were found in the waters and “a white granular substance” washed up on beaches.

“Beach staff immediately deployed oil-absorbent felts and strips to prevent the spread of the oil, and the relevant government departments have been notified to clean up the oil and monitor the water quality of the affected beaches,” the spokesman said.

A Marine Department spokesman confirmed two ships had collided somewhere in the Pearl River estuary, in mainland waters, on Thursday and said that had caused some of the vessel’s cargo, palm oil, to leak into the sea.

Lamma resident Sheila McClelland spotted the oil clumps floating in the water and lying on the beach as she was on her way to work and said she noticed a “faintly chemical odour” as she inspected the solid lumps.

“I pressed it with my foot and it was solid. It was a bit like play dough but not as nice,” she said. “I’ve lived here for a couple of decades and I’ve seen many forms of pollution and unpleasant stuff from oil, syringes and of course the [2012] pellet spill. But nothing like this.”

In July 2012, seven containers fell from cargo ship Yong Xin Jie 1 when Typhoon Vicente hit the city. Six were loaded with 150 tonnes of plastic pellets, which washed up on Hong Kong beaches, sparking concern for marine life.

Lamma resident Stanley Chan Kam-wai, a conservation manager for the Eco-Education and Resources Centre, said cleaning up Sunday’s spill could be “as difficult as, if not more difficult than, cleaning up the mess” from the 2012 incident.

“Some of the oil is starting to congeal so once you press on it, it just disintegrates into powder like snow,” he said. “I’m very concerned about how the government will clean this up.”

He said by late afternoon on Sunday the smell was starting to turn rancid like the odours in alleyways behind fried snack shops.

The concern, he said, was that while most government beaches were being cleaned, the oil on non-government-run beaches would be left to rot.

Other Lamma residents on Sunday posted pictures of the substance on Facebook.

“At first glance it looked like blocks of styrofoam or cooked rice,” said one long-time Lamma resident, who spotted the stuff on Power Station Beach on Sunday morning. “It had a sort of bubbly consistency. It was along the high-tide line covering, I’d say, about two-thirds of the beach. [I’ve]never seen it before.”

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the fruit pulp of oil palm trees. Because of its versatility and low cost, it is used in many food products from fried food and margarine to ice cream, as well as in consumer products such as lipstick, shampoo and detergent.

Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said palm oil could absorb toxins in the water, making it more hazardous than in its raw form.

“People think just because it’s palm oil it’s safe but in large, highly concentrated amounts, it can’t be good for anyone,” he said.

Stokes said children and beach-goers were seen playing with the oily clumps on the shore on Sunday. “Government public communications over these kinds of accidents have definitely got to be worked on. I know it’s the weekend, but that’s when most people visit the beach,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Department said it had sent a boat to help in the clean-up.

Spills from shipping are fairly common in Hong Kong.

Last May, a 50-metre-long slick was spotted floating off Tsing Yi following a collision between an oil tanker and a mainland-registered cargo vessel.

About 493 confirmed oil spills were recorded between 2005 and 2014, according to the Marine Department, 135 of which were caused by shipping accidents or refuelling.

The causes of the rest were unknown.

China’s hairy crab scandal reveals depth of pollution crisis

Toxin-tainted crustaceans raise doubts over clean-up of showpiece lake

Every autumn, Hong Kong restaurants serve a seasonal delicacy: hairy crabs, shipped the same day from lakes around the Chinese city of Suzhou.

But the territory’s food safety inspectors recently made a shocking discovery: some crabs in this year’s consignment contained dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals. Even worse, the crabs appeared to come from Lake Tai, a model in China’s fight against pollution after a multiyear, multibillion-dollar clean-up.

Has the clean-up failed? Or is something else amiss? The answer, says crab breeder Wang Yue, lies in “bathing crabs”, which carry the Lake Tai name but have spent minimal time in its waters.

Mr Wang and his family tend hundreds of crabs in baskets hung from bamboo posts in shallow Lake Tai, also known as Taihu. He estimates the market for crabs has grown to three times what families like his can produce, so crabs grown elsewhere are brought to the lake for a few days so that they can be sold on at a premium — a practice known as giving them a “bath”.

“The crabs here are sweet and tasty because the water is fresh. But people in other cities don’t know the difference,” he said. “Some people can make a lot of money by pretending they come from Lake Tai.”

Lake Tai and nearby Yangcheng Lake provide top-quality hairy crabs. But so many are cultivated elsewhere — in nearby lakes, ponds dug into former rice fields or even under solar farms — that prices have been depressed and breeders on Lake Tai struggle to break even.

The bathing crabs affair appears to be a classic Chinese food safety story, where an explosion in production outpaces regulators’ ability to police quality. But the bigger problem is the long shadow cast by China’s polluters.

A showcase environmental clean-up has markedly improved water quality at Lake Tai. But the costly success does little to address China’s broader soil pollution crisis.

Over the past decade, central planners drew up blueprints to tackle smog, water pollution and soil pollution by closing or moving factories, regulating emissions and improving monitoring — the playbook used at Lake Tai.

The result has been a steady improvement in COD, a measure of the organic content in water and one of Beijing’s environmental targets. But the dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls found in the crabs could come from poorly regulated waste incinerators or steel sintering elsewhere in the Yangtze Delta region, or wherever the bathing crabs are raised.

“It may be discharged as air emissions but if it showed up in crabmeat it’s because the emissions got into the water and the soil, the sediment,” said Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist. Persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs “are hard to decompose. They are persistent. They will stay in the environment for a long time.”

From Mr Wang’s weir, the water smells fresh. A bucket of snails on his porch and the egrets perching on the bamboo struts testify to the improvement in water quality.

It used to be much worse. In the 1990s, 1bn tonnes of rubbish, waste water, pig manure and fertiliser entered Lake Tai every year. Petrochemicals, smelting and textiles turned the waterlogged region into one of the wealthiest in China. Local governments turned a blind eye to polluters.

In 2007 a toxic algae bloom cut off drinking water to 2m people for 10 days. Weeks earlier, authorities arrested a local man campaigning against factories dumping waste in the lake. He was jailed for three years.

After the algae bloom, Beijing declared the lake a natural disaster zone and ordered it cleaned by 2012. It shut factories and moved foundries to industrial zones, installed waste water treatment plants and discouraged pig farm expansion. A widened channel to the Yangtze river helped water circulate.

“There are 35m to 40m people around this lake who rely on its water. So the government had to prioritise it,” said Fang Yingjun, head of Lüse Jiangnan Public Environment Concerned Center, a non-governmental organisation. “Every year we go to the same spot to check the water for algae and every year it’s better. It really is much better. So much money has been spent.”

It was not easy. The warm, shallow lake is the perfect spot for organic pollutants to trigger algae blooms. At 2,338 sq km, it is one and a half times the size of Greater London — big enough to hide plenty of sins.

“You can’t really see the polluted water any more but companies are still good at disguise,” said Wu Lihong, the campaigner who was jailed. Lake residents still spot underwater pipes leading from factories. This summer a secret landfill for waste from Shanghai was discovered on an island in the lake.

And while Beijing focused on Lake Tai, it also encouraged polluting factories to migrate from wealthier areas to the poor hinterland. Meanwhile, ecommerce and cheap airfares allowed new crab farms to spring up around China.

Bathing crabs are likely to remain a barometer of China’s ability to clean up its environment for years to come.


For decades now, with cigarette sales having increased to more than six trillion in 2016, tobacco producers have refused to accept any significant responsibility for the serious, global environmental damage resulting from the production, use and disposal of tobacco products. It’s time for new regulations that hold the tobacco industry (TI) responsible for contaminating the environment, humans, and animals throughout tobacco’s lifecycle.

Tobacco leaf growing and processing involves heavy pesticide and petroleum-based fertilizer use, land degradation and deforestation. Added waste concerns arise from tobacco manufacturing, packaging, distribution and consumption. These concerns include production of greenhouse gases (C02 and methane), released by manufacturing, transport and smoking of tobacco products; environmental toxins found in secondhand smoke; newly described toxic residuals known as thirdhand smoke found attached to surfaces in homes and other enclosed environments where smoking has occurred; and post-consumption toxic tobacco product waste (TPW).

Given experience involving the pesticide, paint and pharmaceutical industries, among others, a strong case can be made for making the TI responsible for serious environmental problems throughout the tobacco product lifecycle. With butt waste being the most visible lifecycle harm, the TI clings to its long held view that smokers and local communities are responsible for post-consumer waste. The industry tries to bolster its image by funding some beach cleanups, Keep America Beautiful, and ash trays, .

These downstream actions are miniscule compared to the up-tofour billion butts polluting the globe annually. The tobacco industry has designed a product that is not only deadly when used as directed, but its cultivation, production, distribution, consumption, and post-consumption management also causes substantial and dangerous environmental contamination.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy principle that promotes environmental protection by extending the responsibilities of the producer across the products entire life cycle. As set out in a Swedish doctoral thesis on corporate responsibility by Thomas Lindhqvist in 2000, EPR addresses two core tenets that are highly applicable to tobacco:

1. Internalizing the environmental cost of products into the retail price; and
2. Shifting the economic burden of managing toxicity and other environmental harms associated with post-consumer waste from local governments and taxpayers to producers.

While EPR is put forward as a legislative approach, it asserts, in the context of tobacco, that the producer would be strictly liable for TPW.

There are several legal theories pertaining to liability, involving potential legal causes of action that could be applicable. Public nuisance may be the strongest approach, although product liability or hazardous waste laws could also successfully hold tobacco producers liable for TPW.

Raising awareness about the environmental consequences of tobacco use and the responsibility of the TI for those consequences will require media messaging, PR skills, donors to help advance our agenda, and actions by governments at national and subnational levels, in order to succeed. For the FCTC, the WHO is currently developing a Monograph on Tobacco and the Environment, with publication in 2017. The foundation for the Monograph is a scientific article co-authored by WHO, the Secretariat and other authors that appeared in the WHO Bulletin, December 2015, available at: More broadly, these and other initiatives will provide opportunities to motivate and collaborate with a diverse array of stakeholders in ways that will benefit environmental protection, as well as quality of human health, while increasing the cost of tobacco and reducing tobacco use.

By Clif Curtis, ASH US Consultant Advisor; President, Cigarette Butt Pollution Project;

Red tides in Hong Kong flag failings of small-house policy and officials in denial

The report on the causes of recent red tides by the University of Hong Kong (“Seeing red over algal blooms”, July 30), highlights the woeful performance of the government in controlling marine pollution.

A major source of pollution is sewage from New Territories houses. Houses constructed under the small-house policy are exempted from building regulations and often have individual septic tanks.

Many village houses are part of large development plans, masterminded by developers and the Heung Yee Kuk, which are a blatant abuse of the small-house policy. Fake farming activities are often used to “condition” land before submitting building applications. Despite often being part of a coordinated development plan, house applications are treated individually. Planning authorities do not assess the cumulative impact of siting numerous septic tanks close to environmentally sensitive waters.

There are no plans to extend mains sewage to most New Territories villages and the government refuses to consider environmentally friendly sewage treatment plants for villages.

The Environmental Protection Department’s guidance material for constructing septic tanks is, by its own admission, incomplete.

The material is way behind international best practice, offering no protection to coastlines other than where there is a gazetted beach. Rules in the Water Pollution Control Ordinance, designed to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest, mariculture sites and marinas, are ignored. The Lands Department, which processes individual house applications, uses its own document, which was agreed at a secret meeting between the Environmental Protection and Lands departments in 2009. It further waters down the regulations, for instance, removing the need to assess the suitability of soil conditions for septic tanks in many cases.

Monitoring water quality is haphazard and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is incapable of measuring the minute quantities of pesticides which can be extremely toxic to marine life.

The main function of water quality monitoring appears to be to enable the Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation departments to tell everyone that there is no problem. The government lives in a state of denial of serious marine pollution problems.

The unaccountable, incompetent, complacent and uncaring bureaucrats who are in charge of Hong Kong’s environment will not be happy until the land is covered in concrete and the seas filled with plastic, human excrement and chemicals. So much for Hong Kong’s commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity. Compliance is a cosmetic farce.

David Newbery, Sai Kung

China’s ‘natural’ disasters are man-made in many cases

With the onset of summer, China has been engulfed by natural disasters, particularly along the Yangtze River basin, where exceptionally heavy rainfall since the beginning of July has led to massive floods and mudslides in several major cities.

Massive floods in central China, in cities like Wuhan, are to be blamed not only on persistent and torrential rain, but also on the obsolete and poorly maintained underground drainage systems. Hence, we can say that the ferocious floods are partly natural, and partly man-made disaster.

China’s rapid economic growth over the past 40 years has come at a huge environmental cost. Industrialization, massive deforestation, rapid urbanization, reckless land clearance and over-harvesting have taken an irreversible toll on the natural environment, resulting in large-scale pollution, widespread soil erosion and desertification across the country.

The crisis has been compounded by the lack of public oversight and administrative transparency, as well as rampant corruption at basically every level of government. All these factors put together have exacerbated the environmental destruction across the mainland.

According to the official figures of the Chinese authorities, soil erosion is the second most critical environmental problem facing China apart from industrial pollution.

Currently soil erosion of different proportions has already affected an area of 3.6 million square kilometers, accounting for 37 percent of China’s total land area. In the meantime, the scale of desertification has also hit crisis level, affecting a total area of 2.6 million square kilometers.

It is estimated that as a result of continued soil erosion and desertification, China is losing an average of one million hectares of farmland every year, and the speed with which it is losing is accelerating.

In the meantime, China’s environmental crisis can not only be found on the ground, but in the atmosphere too.

Unregulated and unchecked carbon emissions have led to persistent smog in almost every major city across China. Highly polluted air has led to an increase in acid rain. It is estimated that as many as 190 cities across the mainland have been suffering from heavy acid rain in recent years, contaminating reservoirs, rivers, lakes and other fresh water sources.

To make things worse, while some parts of the country are plagued by relentless floods, other parts are facing persistent drought. When it comes to the scarcest and most hotly sought after resource in China, many people might immediately think of oil, but actually it is fresh water that is in need most.

As of now, China’s average fresh water resource per capita stands at 25 percent of the global average.

According to British climate expert and historian Hubert Lamb, government policies and political ideology of rulers often have profound and far-reaching implications for the natural environment. Unfortunately, contemporary China is simply a living proof of Lamb’s theory, showing how the ideology of a totalitarian regime can have devastating effects on the environment.

China’s massive environmental destruction dates back to as early as the 1950s, when Mao Zedong ordered the removal of the “4 perils”, during which hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants eagerly took part in a nationwide campaign to kill sparrows on a massive scale because, according to Mao, they endangered crops.

Ironically, after all the sparrows in the wild had gone, the country witnessed a sudden surge in the number of pests such as locusts and aphids that were truly endangering crops.

Then during the period of the Great Leap Forward, Mao called on the nation to launch a steel production drive. That led to countless trees being cut down to produce firewood for makeshift and primitive steel mills across the country. During the process of steelmaking millions of tons of untreated toxic waste were discharged into rivers and lakes across China.

Unfortunately, even though Mao’s era is long gone, acts of state-sponsored environmental destruction are still underway in full swing across China.

As regional party leaders are obsessed with GDP growth and dazzling infrastructural projects without giving any consideration to the long-term implications for the environment, the situation looks bleak.

Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water

Following is a question by Dr Hon Helena Wong and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (July 6):


The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water released at the end of May this year has pointed out that “what we have seen is a collective failure on the part of all stakeholders to guard against the use of non-compliant solder in the plumbing system … every party transferred the duty of supervision to the other(s), resulting in a classic case of buck-passing. Trust was misplaced and in the end it was the residents who suffered the most”. Subsequently at a press conference, the Secretary for Development, Secretary for Transport and Housing as well as Director of Water Supplies apologised to the affected residents for the incidents of excessive lead content in drinking water (the lead-tainted water incidents), but the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) did not. CS remarked that “even though the inquiry of the Commission has revealed that there has been inadequate alertness among government departments and a flawed regulatory system, it does not necessarily mean that there is any individual public officer who has not abided by the law or has neglected his or her duties and should thus be held personally responsible”. On the other hand, the aforesaid report recommended that “in order to put the minds of all public rental housing (PRH) residents at ease, the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again using an appropriate sampling protocol that would include the testing of stagnant water as well”. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that when the accountability system for principal officials was launched in 2002, the authorities indicated that “principal officials under the accountability system … will be accountable to the Chief Executive for the success or failure of matters falling within their respective portfolios. They will accept total responsibility and in an extreme case, they may have to step down for serious failures relating to their respective portfolios. These include serious failures in policy outcome and serious mishaps in the implementation of the relevant policies”, if the authorities have assessed whether, in the lead-tainted water incidents, there is any serious failure in policy outcome and any serious mishap in the implementation of the relevant policies on the part of the principal officials concerned, and whether such officials should be held responsible and step down; if the authorities have assessed, of the outcome; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, of the justifications, and whether they have reviewed if the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a “buck-passing system for high ranking officials”;

(2) whether it will request CS to apologise to the public for the lead-tainted water incidents; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and

(3) whether the authorities will immediately conduct sample tests on the lead content of the “initial draw-off” taken from all PRH estates, and whether they will make public all the data obtained from the water tests and blood tests conducted in relation to the lead-tainted water incidents; if they will not, of the reasons for that?


Acting President,

Following the briefing by myself, relevant Directors of Bureaux and civil service colleagues for the Legislative Council (LegCo) House Committee on September 1 and October 8 last year on the situation of the lead in drinking water incident at public rental housing (PRH) estates, we will attend the special meeting of the House Committee again on July 11 to brief Members on how the Government will follow up on the recommendations of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Report). Also, we have already submitted a detailed information paper and, therefore, I will reply concisely to the question raised by Dr Hon Helena Wong today.

For the three parts of the question, my reply is as follows:

(1) As early as October 16, 2015 at the LegCo motion debate on excess lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I have already taken the initiative to acknowledge that the incident has clearly reflected the inadequacies of the monitoring system of the Housing Department (HD) and the Water Supplies Department (WSD). At the press conference to make public the Report on May 31 this year, we have accepted the criticisms of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Commission), i.e. the checking system of the two departments, for ensuring that the drinking water in PRH estates does not contain excess lead, has failed to function in reality. The Director of Housing and the Director of Water Supplies have already apologised to the public and the affected residents for the systemic failure and imperfect implementation. The policy areas of housing and water supply are under the purview of the Secretary for Transport and Housing (STH) and the Secretary for Development (SDEV) respectively. As politically appointed principal officials, STH Professor Anthony Cheung and SDEV Paul Chan are responsible for supervising their executive departments to ensure the effective implementation of the policies and the provision of sound service to the public. The two Secretaries of Bureaux did not evade their political responsibility, and apologised for the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates. Under the supervision of the Directors of Bureaux, the two departments have endeavoured to investigate comprehensively the drinking water situation, implement measures for affected residents and follow up on the various recommendations of the Commission. Hence, I do not agree with the suggestion that “the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a buck-passing system for high ranking officials”.

(2) Under the political appointment system, the Chief Secretary for Administration plays an important role in terms of policy coordination. For the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I convened the first high-level inter-departmental meeting in the morning of July 11 last year (i.e. the next day after HD confirmed and made public the first sample with excess lead) to co-ordinate the follow-up actions of relevant bureaux and departments. So far 20 meetings have been held and a number of measures have been taken promptly. Following the release of the Commission’s Report, I will continue to provide steer for the work of relevant bureaux and departments to ensure that the formulation and implementation of policies will be coordinated properly.

(3) As regards the Commission’s recommendation that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again, WSD must first deal with the water sampling protocols. As the experts of the Commission also agreed, there was no universally accepted practice at the moment. The action levels for lead concentration in water tested also vary from place to place. Moreover, water testing is just a means to achieve our objective of ensuring the quality and safety of drinking water. As such, the issue and the follow-up work must be considered in a holistic manner in order to allay public concerns and minimise unnecessary nuisance caused to them.

The Commission also supported our proposal to set up an international expert panel on water safety to provide expert advice to Hong Kong on matters related to water quality standards, regulatory and monitoring regime for water quality, water sampling protocols, etc. The international expert panel as set up by the Development Bureau will convene the first video conferencing meeting today, with a view to putting forward a proposal as soon as possible which is suitable for the actual situation in Hong Kong, and covers the water sampling protocols, appropriate lead content level, and the action levels for lead concentration in water tested. Based on the views of the international expert panel, WSD will follow up as appropriate, including the recommendation of the Commission that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again.

As regards making public the results for water tests and blood tests, the Housing Authority (HA) and WSD conducted water sampling tests for all PRH estates concerned between July and November 2015. HA has disseminated to the public the test results for drinking water samples taken from the PRH estates through various channels, including press conferences, press releases and papers issued to LegCo and HA. The Government has also published the overall test results of the blood lead levels of residents in the affected PRH estates as well as the students/staff of the affected schools. The Department of Health and the Hospital Authority have also provided blood test reports and blood lead level data to individuals receiving these tests. As blood lead levels of individuals are personal data, it would not be appropriate to disclose them to the public.

Thank you, Acting President.

Parents unconvinced as Chinese authorities pledge investigations into soil blamed for students’ health problems, including cancer

Parents of students suffering health problems blamed on polluted soil near a school in Jiangsu are sceptical of investigations by state environmental and education authorities.

Some do not even trust local hospitals to carry out health checks on their children, suspecting they may have been pressured by the city authorities.

Many are questioning whether to continue sending their children to the school, which charges 8,500 yuan (HK$10,170) per ¬semester and is among the best in Changzhou.

The ministries of environmental protection and education ordered investigations into the problems at Changzhou Foreign Language School, prompted by an expose by state broadcaster CCTV.

The broadcaster said 493 pupils had developed health problems, including bronchitis, blood and thyroid abnormalities, and even lymphoma and leukaemia, after the school moved last September to a new campus adjacent to a site that had been contaminated by three chemical plants.

The plants left in 2010 and when the school moved to the campus, a project to remedy the polluted soil was launched. However, the project was thought to have released some of the site’s toxins into the atmosphere.

The city’s environmental authorities say the air and soil are now safe, after the project was suspended and the site covered with a layer of clay in February.

But CCTV said the soil and groundwater still contained toxic compounds. It said the level of cancer-causing chlorobenzene in the groundwater was nearly 100,000 times the safety limit.

“We are very scared and don’t know which side we should believe,” the mother of a 14-year-old boy said.“It’s horrific… the chemical pollution poses long-term [health] risks.”

She took her son to a hospital in nearby Wuxi for a checkup, as parents suspect hospitals in Changzhou have been told by the government to give “special treatment” to pupils from the school.

“I was told that all students from the school received the same result: that there is no problem with their health,” she said.

The doctor in Wuxi found the boy to have a slight thyroid problem, but did not directly link the illness to the environment.

A father surnamed Kang whose daughter is in grade eight hoped the school would relocate.

“My daughter took a week off at the start of this semester [over pollution concerns]. But she wanted to go back to school so dearly. Every day I am in a dilemma over whether I should let her go to this school or not,” he said.

He told his daughter not to drink the water at the school, and hired a maid to prepare and deliver lunch to her every day.

On January 15, nearly 1,000 parents joined an overnight protest demanding the school relocate. Hundreds of police were deployed to scatter the crowds. They later visited protesters’ homes and said those who worked at government agencies or state-owned companies were risking their jobs.

The mother said some students were reluctant to leave the school as they had grown emotionally attached to teachers and schoolmates.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the scandal revealed “loopholes in almost every link of environmental supervision”. “The fact the [plants] were able to pump so many pollutants underground reflects a chronic lack of supervision,” he said.

The soil remedy project had obviously failed to identify potential health concerns – and China still did not have a law to regulate such practices, Ma said.

A lack of transparency over soil pollution and chemical pollutants in general made public supervision near impossible, he added.

Simply covering the soil with a layer of clay would not solve the problem, as the health implications of polluted soil and groundwater could take decades to emerge, Ma said.
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Thousands dying in region from ozone pollution caused by warming, Chinese University study finds


Ernest Kao

Deadly ozone levels rising as emissions of fossil fuels increase, Chinese University study warns

Regional warming in East Asia over the past 30 years has led to a rapid rise in surface ozone pollution that may have led to thousands of premature deaths a year, a Chinese University study found.

The researchers warn the situation is likely to get worse as fossil fuel emissions increase.

Ozone is formed by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) reacting with nitrogen oxides (NOx) from sources such as vehicles. The pollutant can cause breathing problems and serious lung disease.

The study found that summertime temperatures in mainland China and surrounding regions had risen by up to 3 degrees Celsius over the past three decades, intensifying ozone in the lower atmosphere by 2 to 10 parts per billion by volume (ppbv).

This increase was associated with an estimated 5,600 extra premature respiratory deaths per year in East Asia – which includes mainland China and Hong Kong – between 1980 and 2010.

But Professor Amos Tai Pui-kuen of the university’s earth system science programme said increases in human-induced emissions from fossil fuel burning had raised ozone levels to 25ppbv over this period, which may have caused an extra 65,000 ozone-related premature deaths per year.

“Our results show that warming in China, indeed, might have exacerbated air pollution further over the past few decades and had a direct impact on human health,” said Tai. “If we include the health impact of more frequent heat extremes, such as heatstroke, the real costs of climate change might have been even higher.”

The 18-month study analysed historical weather and satellite observations of land cover in computer modelling that simulated atmospheric chemistry and pollutant formation.

Tai said warmer temperatures and carbon dioxide increased the growth of vegetation. Trees and plants emit VOCs naturally and these react with NOx emissions from vehicles and power plants, creating yet more ozone.

“South China and Hong Kong will likely experience more serious ozone pollution due to the ‘double impact’ of climate change and enhanced vegetation growth in the future if background nitrogen oxides from industrial [sources] and vehicles remain high.”

Tai urged regional governments to reduce NOx emissions, especially from vehicles, and to take into account future warming and land use changes in the greater Pearl River Delta region.

Clean Air Network campaign manager Patrick Fung Kin-wai said the findings were in line with his own group’s research, which last year found that ozone pollution in Hong Kong had hit a historic high. VOC emissions in the delta region have long been a problem and even with the Chinese economy slowing, there were no signs of it coming down yet, he said.

According to the Environmental Protection Department, ozone concentrations measured at the city’s air quality monitoring stations have increased by 25 per cent over the past five years.

Hong Kong and other cities in the Pearl River Delta have pledged to reduce VOC emissions by 15 to 25 per cent by 2020 from 2010 levels.

Shenzhen reservoir and river hit by sewage spill

Water bureau blames ink company for the pollution, according to newspaper report

Sewage has been discharged into a reservoir, river and farmland in Shenzhen turning fields in the area a reddish brown.

The water bureau in the Baoan district of the city said an ink mixing and cartridge company was responsible, the Shenzhen Jing Bao newspaper reported.

People living near the Tiegang Reservoir said that water feeding into their farmland had turned “blood red”.

“It’s very likely to be the result of an accident, like a spillage, or someone decided to dump the sewage instead of discarding it properly,” said Xiong Yang, an official at the Green River environmental NGO.

“If the sewage seeps into the soil it’s very difficult to clean up, so it’s safe to say that the vegetables are now inedible.”

The ink company Hamno Technology Co did not respond to calls asking for comment. The Baoan water bureau also did not answer calls. Xiong accused the city authorities of failing to regularly enforce environmental protection regulations.

A spokesman for the Water Supplies Department in Hong Kong said imported water from the Shenzhen Reservoir was far from the Tiegang Reservoir site.

No reports had been made to the department about the pollution at Tiegang, he said.

The department monitored water quality at a pumping station near Lo Wu around the clock and have observed no abnormalities, he added.

The Shenzhen authorities would report to them if there were any pollution issues concerning the Dong River, he said, which supplies Hong Kong.

An investigative report by the Shenzhen Evening News last year claimed that 173 out of the 310 rivers and streams running through the city were polluted.

A municipal environment commission also reported that water quality at 121 sampling stations, covering 85 per cent of the city, was “extremely poor”.

Additional reporting by Thomas Chan

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