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LCQ13: Controls on asbestos

    Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Ka-ki and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (March 5):


    Following an increasing number of occupational medical studies on different types of asbestos carried out in the international community, quite a number of countries have banned the import, export and use of various kinds of asbestos to protect the health of their workers and people.  Yet, Hong Kong still allows the import of some asbestos products and their sale in the territory.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows, in each of the past five years, details (including the types and quantities) of the import into Hong Kong, re-export from Hong Kong, sale, usage and storage in Hong Kong of various kinds of asbestos materials and wastes, as well as materials and wastes containing asbestos;

(b) whether it has conducted any territory-wide survey to find out if buildings in Hong Kong contain asbestos and inform their users of the survey results;

(c) of the average number of inspections conducted by the authorities in the past five years on the projects undertaken by individual registered asbestos contractors, and whether any case of non-compliance was found during the inspections; if so, what follow-up actions had been taken;

(d) whether it has educated property owners about how to distinguish if their properties, which are to be demolished, contain asbestos, so that they can take suitable precautionary measures; and how the authorities ensure that after demolition of the buildings, the wastes which may contain asbestos will be properly disposed of; and

(e) whether it has any plan to impose a total ban on the use of products containing asbestos and the trading of such products in Hong Kong?


Madam President,

    The Air Pollution Control Ordinance (the Ordinance) stipulates in detail the controls on asbestos works and the use of asbestos containing materials to protect public health.

    According to the interpretation of the Ordinance, ¡§asbestos¡¨ includes the minerals, and substances containing amosite, crocidolite, chrysotile, fibrous actinolite, fibrous anthophyllite and fibrous tremolite.  The import and sale of amosite and crocidolite have been banned in Hong Kong since the commencement of the Ordinance in 1996.  The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) will enforce the Hazardous Chemicals Control Ordinance in April this year through a permit system to step up controls on the import, export, manufacturing and use of the raw materials of asbestos (except chrysotile).  With the exception of some countries and regions, the international communities are generally cautious about asbestos and allow the import and export of materials containing the less hazardous chrysotile.
    My reply to the question raised by the Hon Kwok Ka-ki is as follows:

(a) According to the EPD¡¦s survey, asbestos, except chrysotile, were not used in the past five years.  The record on the import and export of chrysotile is as follows:

Year                  2003  2004  2005  2006  2007

Import of chrysotile  121    107    165  101    47
and chrysotile
containing materials

Export of chrysotile    111    59    101    14    8
and chrysotile
containing materials

(b) Construction materials used in Hong Kong in recent years have mostly been asbestos-free.  Under normal circumstances, asbestos containing materials found in buildings will not pose a hazard as long as they are in good condition and are not tampered with.  Regarding the demolition of unauthorised structures and buildings, the Buildings Department will refer the target buildings to the EPD for follow-up action.  Therefore the EPD has not conducted any territory-wide survey on buildings.  The EPD has published a concise pamphlet on asbestos controls to inform the public on the controls and disposal requirements of asbestos containing materials.

(c) The number of inspections conducted by the EPD on registered asbestos contractors in the past five years is tabulated below:

Year            2003  2004  2005  2006  2007

Number of        796    788    745    760    682

Average number    49      43    45    40    35
of inspections
on each

    If any registered person is found to have contravened the code of practice in carrying out asbestos works during an inspection, the EPD will issue a warning letter and refer to the Asbestos Administration Committee for disciplinary inquiry.  In the past five years, the EPD issued reprimands or suspension orders to seven registered persons after the inquiries and published the findings of the inquiries in the Gazette.  Among these registered persons, one registered asbestos supervisor was prosecuted and convicted by court.

(d) The EPD has published a concise pamphlet on asbestos controls and uploaded it onto its website for the purpose of public education.  Moreover, the EPD has set up a hotline for public enquiries on asbestos controls.  Works involving asbestos in recent years were mostly related to the demolition of unauthorised structures and the maintenance, addition works or demolition of buildings.  In the past five years, the EPD issued a total of 38,000 written notices with copies of the above concise pamphlet enclosed to help property or premises owners find out if the unauthorised structures to be demolished contain asbestos, the measures to be taken and the proper ways of disposing asbestos wastes.  Moreover, EPD staff will attend meetings arranged by the owners¡¦ corporations or building management of the buildings affected by the demolition orders to explain the provisions of the Ordinance so as to enhance public awareness of asbestos controls.  EPD staff will inspect asbestos works regularly to ensure proper disposal of asbestos wastes.

(e) The import and use of the two more hazardous asbestos, that is, amosite and crocidolite, are banned in Hong Kong.  In the past five years, the quantity of chrysotile or materials containing chrysotile imported into Hong Kong showed a significant downward trend. With the implementation of the Hazardous Chemicals Control Ordinance, controls on the raw materials of asbestos will be stepped up.  Therefore, the EPD considers that there is no urgent need to impose a total ban on the trading and use of all products with asbestos containing materials in Hong Kong.  However, we will continue to keep a close watch on international trends in asbestos controls with a view to reviewing the existing controls where appropriate.

Ends/Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Issued at HKT 16:35


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