'Asbestos dumping a scare tactic'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 April, 2010, 12:00am

Enraged villagers in Fanling claim agents from Henderson Land wrecked old houses and failed to properly handle toxic asbestos in the roofs as a tactic to drive them off the land so it can be redeveloped.

A dozen of them attended a press conference outside Ma Shi Po village yesterday to counter the developer's claim on Friday that no asbestos had been found in the houses it demolished in the past two years. The developer was responding after a union said a laboratory test found asbestos in five samples from the debris.

Kwan Hon-kwai said he and his neighbours witnessed agents acting for Henderson using metal bars to knock down about 100 houses it bought.

'They knocked off the asbestos roofs and threw the pieces down to the wells. Some just remained on the sites,' Kwan said.

The law requires the demolition of asbestos buildings to be carried out by registered contractors, who have to cover the buildings before the work, protect workers with outfits and properly dispose of the material.

'Henderson is such an established developer that I can't believe it was not aware of the existence of asbestos in these old huts, which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, when asbestos was a very common construction material,' Kwan said.

Asbestos, banned in 1996 in construction, poses no health risk until it is broken down, when it releases fibres into the air that can settle in the lungs and cause cancer.

Au Lau-kun, a 54-year-old who has lived in the village all his life, said the way the developer handled asbestos was a tactic to drive out those who wanted to stay.

'It wants to makes us feel we're living in a mess so when it comes we will surrender. I feel so melancholy, so scared. I don't know how to cope.'

Au rents a 50,000 sq ft farm where he and his wife grow vegetables to make a living. He has received a letter from Henderson demanding that he move out.

Ma Shi Po village is within Fanling North new town, which is under planning. Unlike past practice, the government has, in drawing up the town boundaries, chosen areas inhabited by non-indigenous rather than indigenous villagers, saving itself large amounts of compensation.

Henderson and other developers have been buying up lots of land in Fanling North.

A spokeswoman for Henderson said yesterday the company would shortly send staff to check the site. She reiterated the demolition was done by its contractors, who had confirmed in writing that no asbestos was found.

The Environmental Protection Department said its staff found asbestos in the village debris last Friday and it would contact the landlord.