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April 12th, 2012:

It’s alarming when people can’t see the smog for the pollution

12 April 2012 – SCMP

One of the odd things about Hong Kong’s poor air quality is that a lot of people are relatively unconcerned about it, according to anecdotal evidence and some surveys. This is despite the Hedley Environment Index showing that there has been an annual average of 3,200 avoidable deaths due to the city’s bad air quality for the past five years. These figures are not disputed by the government.

There still seems to be a high level of ignorance in the community as to the dangers of poor air and the source of it. We are constantly astonished to hear lawyers and financial types, who you would assume are switched on to what is going on around them, expressing ignorance as to the source of our bad air.

A number of people fall for the Environmental Protection Department’s line that most of it comes from the mainland. This is technically true if we determine it by weight. But the harm that occurs is due to the high concentration of pollutants in built-up areas that creates a “canyon effect”. Most of the street level pollution comes from vehicles – 80-90 per cent of it from buses and trucks using old and or poorly maintained engines. So the worst pollution in terms of what people breathe is produced locally and is something that can be drastically reduced should the government care to take the necessary steps. That is, adequately subsidise the owners of these dirty engines to get their vehicles off the road, something which estimates have shown can be achieved for well under the HK$38 billion the government gave back to the public with its absurd HK$6,000 handout.

Roadside pollution kills far more people than bird flu and Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) combined. Since 2003 there have been 338 reported deaths worldwide from bird flu and 916 deaths from Sars. Yet bird flu and Sars created far more alarm within the community. If roadside pollution could be linked to a single distinctive killer then possibly the public concern would reflect the threat it poses.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of effective proactive government measures to improve the situation. One is the reluctance to tighten air quality objectives since this will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for pet government infrastructure projects to secure approval. The government has been Machiavellian in stripping expertise out of the leading positions in the Environmental Protection Department, which is headed by a civil servant rather than a technical professional as in previous years. The department is also distinctive in having no public health professionals on board. Nevertheless, the lack of public awareness or concern is alarming and enables the government to continue to sit on its hands.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board regularly questions departing visitors. Its surveys over the past five years show people are increasingly “very satisfied” with the air quality. Last year 23.6 per cent were “very satisfied” compared with 11.1 per cent in 2006, 36.1 per cent were “quite satisfied” compared with 35.3 per previously, 31.1 per cent rated the air “average” compared with 35.9 per cent, and 7.1 per cent were “quite dissatisfied” compared with 13.7 per cent. Only 2.2 per cent were “very dissatisfied” compared with 4 per cent in 2006. This could possibly be explained by the increasing number of visitors from the mainland, where the air is even worse than here

Burning doubt


Clear the Air says:

Contrary to what is written below,  the operating expenses of the incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau are estimated by the Government to be HKD 346 million per year. (since when did the Tsang maladministration get any estimated calculations correct ?? much easier to rubber stamp it then go and ask for more from friendly lawmakers !)

However incineration is in fact, thermal matter conversion – it leaves approx 30%  residues of the matter in bottom and fly ash. If the burn temperature drops with wet MSW or defective parts , dioxins and furans will issue. Then the  ash needs to be dumped daily  …. Into landfills. This means creating additional landfills to handle the ash …….ad infinitum ……….with associated costs. No doubt the proposed artificial mega  island at South Cheung Chau is the intended recipient of the ash.

There is no doubt the Government will want to build a second incinerator. It has failed to mandate recycling laws and fails to collect recycled items from private estates and business locations leaving that to a public voluntary DIY measure.

99% of daily recyclable items are exported from Hong Kong to China. Meanwhile, the local recycling industry is almost bankrupt. The Environment Minister has a diabolically defective non performing prevaricating  portfolio – whatever happened to ministerial accountability – for this he got a Gold Bauhinia ???? He should be fired.

Donald Tsang’s proposed DBC retirement home in Futian happens to be the same distance from Tsang Tsui as the distance from Tsang Tsui to Tsing Yi – hence NIDBY – ‘Not In Donald’s Back Yard’ decision to choose Shek Kwu Chau  ? Think about it.

Meanwhile Imperial College UK has started a 2 year study on increased deaths and illnesses related to proximity to incinerators, funded by the UK Government Health Protection Bureau.

Of course using plasma gasification plants sited at the landfills , the landfills could be mined eventually back to their original state. The plasma emissions, syngas, can create bio- jet fuel or electricity generation. They are profit making. The emissions are ……..molten plasmarok- that can be used as road aggregate. There is no ash since the 8,000 degrees Centigrade process vitrifies it – no landfills ad infinitum required. Meanwhile the Government relies on public comments from a whitecoat professor of biology from HK Baptist University  (the recipient of numerous previous Government study fundings) as a reborn waste incineration expert to push its case.

Hong Kong does not need the Tsang legacy polluting its future, it needs a wholesale cleanout and change.

Basementgate.  Tycoongate. Pollutiongate?

Burning doubt

Tom Yam questions the Environmental Protection Department’s decision to build a waste incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau without adequately counting or presenting its high financial and ecological costs

Apr 13, 2012

If the Environmental Protection Department has its way, Hong Kong will be saddled with the world’s largest waste incineration plant on a site that is the most expensive to develop (HK$14.96 billion at current prices), takes the longest time to construct, has the highest construction risk, and inflicts the most ecological damage.

The plant is to be located in Shek Kwu Chau, an area of natural beauty south of Cheung Chau and Lantau.

The department ignored findings by its consultants, conducted no comprehensive comparative analysis with the other potential site – the Tsang Tsui ash lagoons in Tuen Mun, presented no comparative cost and risk analysis, omitted and obfuscated information, and initiated the project in Shek Kwu Chau prior to approval by the Legislative Council.

In 2007, the department engaged a consultancy, Camp, Dresser and McKee International, to study possible sites for the incinerator. The firm analysed eight sites and recommended two, Tsang Tsui and Shek Kwu Chau, for further evaluation in January 2008.

The consultants gave the Tuen Mun site the highest score because of the ease of integration with existing landfill and waste facilities, much lower impact on local ecology, shorter construction time, and lower construction costs. The site is on existing ash lagoons in Nim Wan, in the northwestern New Territories. There are already industrial developments in the area, including the Black Point Power Station and the West New Territories Landfill.

In contrast, the consultants said, the Shek Kwu Chau site was in an ecologically sensitive area and required extensive reclamation and seabed dredging, as well as construction of all infrastructure from scratch. Twelve hectares on Shek Kwu Chau’s southwestern coast will have to be reclaimed to build an artificial island, plus berths and a breakwater, for a total of 31 hectares. There is no industrial development on Shek Kwu Chau. The area near the island is home to rich fisheries and rare wildlife, and is frequented by the endangered finless porpoise.

In 2008, the department engaged another consultancy, Aecom, to study the feasibility of the two sites and incinerator technology. Aecom’s report became the definitive document it used to justify its decisions. In a presentation in February last year to Legco’s environment panel, the department summarised analysis of incinerator technology in a clear, side-by-side comparison of the options in a table format under various criteria, including capital and operating costs, resulting in the selection of moving grate incinerator technology.

But there was no such cost comparison of the Tsang Tsui and Shek Kwu Chau sites. Instead, there were 13 pages of dense script discussing the two sites in terms of such criteria as air and water quality, noise impact, and ecology. There was no comparison of construction and operating costs for the two sites.

Close reading of these 13 pages shows that Aecom considered the two sites equally suitable, except in ecology and fisheries where the impact on Shek Kwu Chau would be great. It noted that the waters around Shek Kwu Chau were an important habitat for the finless porpoise and home to some 15 species of coral. Also, the white-bellied sea eagle, an uncommon species with limited known breeding sites in Hong Kong, was known to breed around the site. “Permanent loss of 31 hectares of fishing ground, of which 15.9 hectares is a previously identified fisheries spawning and nursery ground, is expected,” it concluded.

Yet, not only did the department obfuscate the comparison of the two sites, it omitted mention of the serious impact on the island’s ecology and fisheries in later presentations.

Inexplicably, the findings of both consultancy reports were ignored in the department’s “Explanation Booklet for the Proposed Waste Management Facilities” (March 2011) and in a document presented to Legco’s environment panel on March 26 this year.

Instead, the department cited a completely new reason for selecting Shek Kwu Chau: that it would ensure “a more balanced spatial distribution” of waste facilities here. This was never among the 20 criteria considered by the two consultants. The department reduces the complexity of the project to a simple matter of geography: spreading the waste processing around Hong Kong by despoiling a beautiful area.

More gallingly, the Shek Kwu Chau site was chosen long before the department revealed the cost estimates.

It presented the costs to Legco only five days before it sought the go-ahead from Legco’s environmental panel on March 26. And it was only on Tuesday, in a letter to the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews) , that a department official divulged the construction costs of the Tsang Tsui site: HK$9 billion in September 2011 prices, versus HK$11.383 billion for the Shek Kwu Chau site, a 26per cent difference in capital cost. No operating cost for either site has been disclosed.

However, a year before the costs were made public and Legco’s approval sought, the Lands Department had already issued a notice to reclaim land and dredge the seabed in the Shek Kwu Chau area. A cable junction has been installed on Cheung Sha beach in South Lantau to supply electricity to Shek Kwu Chau. On November 24 last year, Aecom said, it had won a contract with the department to manage construction of the incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau.

The department’s dubious decision-making process lends credence to the perception that its selection of Shek Kwu Chau was influenced by politics and special interests rather than the best outcome for Hong Kong.

Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked at AT&T, Ernst & Young and IBM