Official inaction on effluent leak riles lawmakers
Lack of answers and late disclosure follow discharge of pollutants into irrigation water
Environment officials have come under fire for not launching their own probe into the cause of an effluent leak from the Ta Kwu Ling landfill, as lawmakers vowed they would continue to seek the truth about what officials described as an accident.
More than 50 days after the leak, officials were still unable to determine how a 0.9 square metre hole was torn in the impermeable layer of a temporary effluent lagoon at the dump.
At a special meeting of the Legislative Council environment affairs panel yesterday, officials said the dump's operator, which faces prosecution for water pollution, was obliged to submit a report on the incident by the end of this month.
"It is like a probe by someone who is the target of a probe. How could you guarantee the probe's result is trustworthy? Why doesn't the government launch its own investigation?" asked Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah.
The leak was first spotted on July 27 but made public only on August 28. An unknown volume of polluted water ran into the Kong Yiu channel, from which some farmers had been drawing irrigation water.
It also emerged yesterday that two more water samples, taken on August 30 and September 2, contained pollutants exceeding legal limits, in addition to a sample taken on August 7.
Officials said the pollutants were residue from a previous leak rather than a new one.
Democrat lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan vowed to seek the truth about the leak and urged officials to launch their own probe.
"The leakage was either [a result of] professional negligence or something beyond professional knowledge. In either case it is a worry to the public," she said.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said there was an established process for an investigation under the contract with the operator, but he did not say why the government could not launch a parallel probe.
"We will take a serious look into the cause," he said, adding that an independent consultant would be engaged to review the contractor's report.
Wong reiterated that the leak was just an "accident", and that the Environmental Protection Department closely monitored the contractor's performance.
Legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung queried why it took so long to disclose the leak and whether the dump had the capacity to handle torrential rains.
Christine Loh Kung-wai, undersecretary for the environment, said the bureau would not object to making future leaks public immediately but needed time to look into how to do it.
Dr Ellen Chan Ying-lung, assistant director of environmental protection, said officials had already asked the contractor if the lagoon could be covered. They would also study whether the impermeable layer of the lagoon bottom could be doubled.
Panel chairwoman Cyd Ho Sau-lan said she would hold another meeting on the issue when the contractor's report was out.