Environmentalists reject claims that the reclamation work is safe, saying instead that it is stirring up dangerous toxins Work resumed on the controversial Central reclamation yesterday, with barges and a dredger starting to haul up thousands of tonnes of mud from the seabed. Despite government claims that what it called a limited resumption of work would not cause irreparable damage to the harbour, environmentalists renewed their calls to halt the work, saying the dredging was stirring up toxins that would enter the food chain. 'The dredging will affect water flow and marine ecology as it stirs up pollutants from the seabed. The mud dumping will also directly damage the marine environment. There is no reason for continuing the work,' said Winston Chu Ka-sun, chairman of the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, after meeting the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, yesterday. Greenpeace also warned of further protest action if the dredging was not stopped. A government spokesman confirmed that the work had been resumed in line with an Executive Council decision on Tuesday to confine efforts to dredging, rather than dumping material into the harbour. The work had been halted 10 days ago ahead of a judge's ruling against an injunction application by Mr Chu's society on Monday. The dredging will last for months. A 1995 environmental assessment of the project said 580,000 cubic metres of mud would be dredged from the site. The assessment found that up to 375,000 cubic metres of the mud was seriously contaminated with heavy metals, while the rest was less toxic. As recommended by the report, the first stage of the work will involve dredging up to 100,000 cubic metres of mud at a rate of 98 cubic metres an hour. Working 16-hour days and six-day weeks, the dredging should take 10 weeks, although it is not known how much had been completed before yesterday. The contaminated mud will be dumped into a marine pit off East Sha Chau, north Lantau, Hong Kong's only site for accommodating such toxic material. The pit is a depression in the seabed created in the early 1990s when material was removed to create Chek Lap Kok airport. A dumping fee of $55 per cubic metre is charged for use of the pit, which originally had a capacity of 41 million cubic metres. It consists of four ditches up to 35 metres deep, three of which are already full. The last ditch is expected to handle demand until 2008. The Environmental Protection Department claims the dumping off North Lantau has had no health effect on humans, white dolphins or other marine life since it began in 1992. But Greenpeace executive director Liu Hung-to yesterday said he had serious doubts about the department's monitoring, saying toxic dumping had to be stopped. 'How could such a dirty practice be allowed while the legality of the works are still in question? The government should stop the work immediately or we will consider taking further action,' Mr Liu said.