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Demolition crew dumped asbestos, villagers say

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Demolition crew dumped asbestos, villagers say

 

Residents of a Fanling village have accused developers of ignoring safety standards in demolishing houses and of leaving cancer-threatening asbestos lying around.

About 90 houses have been demolished in Ma Shi Po village by companies clearing the land for development, and villagers say the asbestos roofing sheets from the houses have been dumped instead of being safely disposed of.

They say many residents, unaware of the risks, picked up the toxic debris, broke it up and put it to various uses around their homes.

The Ban Asbestos Alliance said the situation pointed to risks in several northern villages where thousands of houses built with asbestos would soon be demolished for redevelopment.

Asbestos releases fibres into the air that can settle in lungs and airways. Prolonged accumulation of the fibres can cause scarring and shortness of breath. People exposed to the material for a long period of time face increased risk of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer.

At Ma Shi Po, residents used the asbestos to put under fences and on top of huts. A tomato farmer using it to make a water channel next to a field.

‘I don’t know anything about asbestos … neighbours picked it up for their own use,’ villager Ho Shun, 83, said. He said he had used his bare hands to break up an asbestos roof. ‘I am still okay,’ Ho said.

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Under the Factories and Industrial Undertaking Ordinance, the Labour Department has detailed guidelines for the handling of the asbestos, including the use of protective gear and cleaning of the site.

Alliance member Mak Tak-ching said villagers had told him workers demolishing the homes did not wear any protective clothing.

He said workers from the site should be singled out for follow-up health checks.

Mak said thousands of old houses in the northern part of Hong Kong, including Kwu Tung and Ping Che, were built with asbestos before the material was banned for construction purposes.

As those areas would be redeveloped soon, the government should make sure the houses were demolished properly. It should also ban the importing of asbestos.

A spokeswoman for Henderson Land said its contractor Treasure Wealth had demolished houses at the village in 2008 and last year.

‘The contractor has given us written confirmation that no asbestos was found during their three rounds of demolition,’ she said. All waste materials had been removed from the village.

But Kwan Hon-kwai, who has lived in Ma Shi Po for more than 50 years, said asbestos had been used in nine of 10 houses there and it was unlikely the contractor would not have encountered any.

An Environment Bureau spokesman said it would evaluate its policy on asbestos following changes in regulation of the material by other countries. It would not promise a ban on its use.

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