Dragged through the mud

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 12:00am

A sudden U-turn in the Environmental Protection Department's (EPD) position on dredging work at the Container Terminal 9 site shows that Greenpeace was on the right track all along when it claimed the mud there was dangerous. But for its campaign, dumping off Dangan Island in mainland waters would continue unhindered for the next three years.

Yet if the activist group's assessment of the chemicals contained in the mud is half accurate, severe damage could already have been done to the marine environment. One contaminant alone, tributyl tin paint - TBT - is said to be so toxic that a spoonful in the harbour at Causeway Bay could cause genetic mutations in fish. No wonder the mainland is so angry, although its own State Oceanic Administration also gave the go-ahead.

The EPD's first reaction to the protests was to say officials had issued the right permits, as if correct paperwork was a guarantee of safety. Now it is shifting responsibility to the contractors by asking them to provide proof that dumping is safe. Is this not a case of putting the cart before the horse? The department should be able to tell contractors whether the work they plan is environmentally sound. It should not be asking them for proof.

The EPD seems to have a rather sketchy idea of its remit. In March, it was criticised for hiring an adviser with industry links to conduct a study into the merits of the planned Tsing Yi incinerator. Hastily produced environmental reports on the Disneyland project have also been questioned. Conservationists from several agencies claim they are flawed. On this evidence, it is not unreasonable to ask if the EPD is doing a proper job? Other government departments may try to steamroller plans through for economic reasons. The EPD exists to see they do not succeed at the cost of the environment or the health and welfare of the community.