Sai Kung residents complain about careless removal of asbestos ledges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 July, 2009, 12:00am

Sai Kung residents are worried about the unlawful removal of asbestos from a four-storey building in the main square in Man Nin Street.

Last Monday, builders began removing concrete ledges containing asbestos from the building. The ledges, measuring about four metres by one metre and which also serve as window awnings, were broken up and carried from the building in bags labelled 'asbestos'.

Asbestos is relatively safe if left undisturbed. But when buildings or materials are demolished, asbestos particles can be released into the air and are dangerous. In recent years airborne asbestos fibres have been linked to a number of diseases, including asbestosis and lung cancer.

Sai Kung resident Jessica Drechsler said she woke up a week ago to find workers climbing scaffolding around the building with little or no respiratory protection.

'I have seen asbestos before and couldn't believe my eyes as the workers broke apart the awnings,' Ms Drechsler, who works in the construction industry, said. 'Asbestos was floating through the air and around the square into the nearby vegetable shop and restaurants.'

Matthew Wilcock, manager of a Sai Kung restaurant, also watched the work in disbelief. 'I was shocked to see this in Hong Kong. The men were breaking apart the awnings and putting them into a huge plastic sheet to lower from the fourth floor to the ground. Imagine if the rope broke on that load.'

The Labour Department's 120-page 'Safety and Health at Work with Asbestos' code of practice states: 'Use and handling of asbestos or materials containing asbestos in the workplace require strict control to prevent serious occupational diseases asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.'

The measures include suppressing the dust at source, partially or totally enclosing the area, and making sure workers wear protective clothing to prevent or reduce exposure.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Buildings Department visited the site after inquiries by Sai Kung residents and the South China Morning Post.

'The two men from the EPD told the contractor to clean up the debris on our balcony, but it has not really been cleaned up,' said Ms Drechsler, pointing to the dust and chunks of asbestos-laden cement still there. 'They also recommended that the contractor monitor the air quality, but we still haven't seen that.'

The contractors were not available for comment.

Hong Kong's policy on the handling, removal and decontamination of asbestos is one of the strictest in the world, according to an industry source.

'Outside, there is a low chance of exposure, but the contractor should do the job correctly. The residents are taking things in the right direction by involving the EPD. It is important to ask the contractor for the results of reassurance air monitoring to ensure safety,' the source said.