LCQ9: Lard boiling factory in Tai Tong Wu Village

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (November 27):


     I have received a request for assistance from villagers in Fanling who claimed that they had been affected for more than 20 years by the pollution and stenches emitted from a lard boiling factory (the factory) in Tai Tong Wu Village.  At least nine nearby villages were affected.  The factory was built on government land under Short Term Tenancy (STT) with permitted land use for cow bone crushing activities, but it switched to lard production.  The villagers said that the factory's lard production gave off stenches every day, causing headache, nausea and vomiting among residents of nearby villages and thus endangering their health.  The villagers consider that both the Lands Department (LandsD) and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) are to blame for the decade-long problem.  Apart from sending several warning letters to the factory operator between 1992 and 2012, LandsD had neither prosecuted the operator nor terminated its land lease for violating the permitted land use. Moreover, EPD issued a specified process licence (the licence) to the factory operator in 1999, which was subsequently renewed for several times, and in 2011, EPD extended the licence to April 2016.  However, LandsD, in its reply to the Legislative Council Secretariat in 2012, indicated that EPD's Environmental Assessment Division had stated that it "does not support" the application for change of land use on account of factory's operation violating the Code of Practice on Handling the Environmental Aspects of Temporary Uses and Open Storage Sites.  Subsequently, the factory operator commissioned the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) to prepare an environmental assessment report (EA report) for submission to EPD in respect of its application for change of permitted land use from cow bone crushing to lard production.  However, villagers said that HKPC had sent their staff only twice to the neighbourhood of the factory to measure emissions when the factory emission was low and no odour was detected.  They also said that while the standard practice of HKPC's staff was to measure emissions when a factory was running in "full load capacity", such staff of HKPC had to rely on the factory concerned to tell them what was the "best time" to go there for measurement.  Until now, despite repeated requests from the villagers, EPD has refused to disclose the EA report on the premise that the report is regarded as "third party information" under the Code of Access to Information.  In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a)  as EPD has pointed out that the aforesaid EA report is not a statutory report under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (Cap. 499), whether EPD has considered this report before giving comments to LandsD on the aforesaid application by the factory operator for changing the permitted land use;

(b)  whether EPD has measured the levels of emissions, sewage and other pollutants from the factory; if so, of the findings;

(c)  as the factory operator had been fined nine times for violating the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 311) between 2000 and 2002, why EPD still renewed the licence to the factory for several times;

(d)  as LandsD has stated that EPD had "no objection" to the operator's application for changing the permitted land use under STT from cow bone crushing to lard production, of the justifications for EPD making the "no objection" comment; whether, in view of the pollution and stench concerns expressed by the residents, EPD will withdraw its "no objection" comment;

(e)  as I was told that EPD officials had said at a rural committee meeting held earlier this year that EPD had reservations about the factory's application for changing the permitted land use under STT from cow bone crushing to lard production, whether such reservations still stand;

(f)  as the villagers have told me that the aforesaid EA report is public information based on which the Government has made decisions affecting them, whether EPD will make public the report; if so, when EPD will do so; if not, of the justifications for that;

(g)  given that The Ombudsman indicated in 2012 that LandsD had failed to enforce the conditions in the land lease concerned and allowed the factory operator to violate the permitted land use, why LandsD did not enforce the conditions in the land lease and terminate the STT for the factory; and

(h)  whether LandsD has decided to renew STT for the factory despite the evidence submitted by the villagers, The Ombudsman's report, and the opinion of the Environmental Assessment Division of EPD?



     The subject lard production factory has been in operation since the 1990s. It is located uphill to the north of Tai Tong Wu Village in Ta Kwu Ling, at a distance of about 160m from the nearest village house cluster.  Its operation involves cooking pig fat from local sources to produce lard and dried fat residue for export as animal and fish feed products. The factory is subject to the regulatory requirements of the pollution control legislation, including a licence (SP licence) for operating a specified process under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (APCO) and a wastewater discharge licence under the Water Pollution Control Ordinance (WPCO). The factory has adopted a number of pollution control measures, including enclosure of the production area, installation of water scrubbing system and activated carbon filter for cleaning of the air emissions before discharge at the chimney, and the installation of a series of grease traps and septic tank for treatment of the washing wastewater for disposal at a soakaway pit within the site.  Field inspections to the factory and the nearby village areas conducted by EPD in the past months indicated that the factory operations and their pollution control measures were in line with the statutory requirements.

(a) and (d)  In connection with the renewal of the STT for the factory site, LandsD sought comments on the application from concerned Government departments, including EPD, in August 2012.  EPD pointed out that the factory vehicles using the existing village road might cause possible noise and dust problems and there was no assessment information to show that these problems would be properly managed.  The factory commissioned a consultant HKPC to address the issues and submitted an environmental assessment (EA) report to LandsD in support of their STT application in September 2013.  The EA report demonstrated that with additional mitigation measure of restricting all factory vehicles to an alternative access road instead of going through the village, the factory vehicles would not cause unacceptable noise and dust impacts to the nearby residents. The EA report also presented monitoring and assessment results at the nearest sensitive receivers, which showed that the factory operation would comply with relevant environmental requirements. In addition, since our field inspections showed that the factory's operation complied with the pollution control legislation, EPD advised LandsD that EPD had no objection to the STT application from the environmental perspective.

(b)  The EA report submitted by the consultant HKPC included collection of field and measurement data. EPD had carefully reviewed the EA report and was satisfied that the assessment conducted on the dust and noise impacts was professionally sound. EPD did not conduct separate measurements.

(c)  Between 2000 and 2002, the factory operator was prosecuted nine times due to failure in meeting the air pollution control requirements of the APCO.  Because of EPD's enforcement actions, the factory operator had implemented pollution control measures to clean up its oily fume and odour emissions from the factory.  Given the improvements made, the factory has been meeting the requirements under the APCO. Hence a SP Licence was issued under the Ordinance in 2003 and renewed in subsequent years.

(e)  As explained in (a) above, EPD had expressed reservations on the factory's STT application submitted in August 2012 because the factory vehicles might cause possible noise and dust problems and there was no assessment information to show that these problems would be properly managed.  Since the EA report submitted to LandsD in September 2013 had adequately addressed the issue, EPD did not further object to the STT application from environmental perspective and advised LandsD accordingly.

(f)  The EA report was prepared by the lard factory and submitted to the Lands Department for purpose of the STT application. On the recent request from a villager to obtain a copy of the report under the Code on Access to Information (CoA), EPD is in the course of processing the request in accordance with the provisions of the CoA and will reply to the villager accordingly.  

(g) and (h)  The STT was granted in 1983 for the purpose of a bone crushing factory.  LandsD issued a warning letter to the tenant in 1992 after discovering a breach of the user clause. The tenant, in response, submitted an application for modification of the STT as a means of regularisation.  The tenant applied in parallel to the relevant authorities for planning approval, offensive trade licence and licences required under the APCO and WPCO.  In the meantime, local objections were received against the tenant's application for modification of the STT.

     In the course of taking forward the application with regard to this particular case, departments concerned have specified various technical requirements and the tenant has been taking proactive actions to comply with these requirements.  Having regard to such steps taken by the tenant, LandsD has withheld for the time being further tenancy enforcement pending completion of the processing of the various other applications in relation to the operation of the established concerned.

     The Ombudsman concluded in his findings in 2012 that there had been delay on the part of LandsD in processing the regularisation application, and urged LandsD to liaise with the relevant departments to resolve the issues and reach a prompt decision on the regularisation application. LandsD agreed with the Ombudsman's findings and recommendations.

     Subject to no further objection from departments concerned, LandsD would continue to process the STT regularisation application, and in the process take into consideration local views.  Each case is considered on its own merit, and LandsD will consider whether any objection raised is substantiated, and if so ensure that they are properly addressed.  The application, if approved, would be subject to such terms and conditions as considered appropriate including payment of retrospective market rental for the user to be permitted under the STT.  The tenant would also be clearly informed that the Government reserves the right to terminate the STT if the case is not rectified, or to refuse renewal if there is any further breach under the lease and/or other regimes.

Ends/Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Issued at HKT 13:23