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Fines of up to $15,000 handed down in asbestos prosecutions

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Fines of up to $15,000 handed down in asbestos prosecutions

 

The Environmental Protection Department has successfully prosecuted 13 cases relating to the unlawful handling of asbestos in the past two months.

The prosecutions, made under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, resulted in fines of between $3,000 and $15,000.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral commonly used in building applications.

But in recent years airborne asbestos fibres have been linked to a number of diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

It is no longer used in construction in Hong Kong, where its importation and sale has been banned since the mid-1990s.

Pang Sik-wing, principal environment protection officer with the department’s Air Management Group, said most of the prosecutions had to do with the unlawful removal of asbestos from illegal structures targeted for demolition by the Buildings Department.

‘We require all asbestos to be removed by registered asbestos contractors,’ Mr Pang said, adding the material must be safely disposed of at designated sites. Those prosecuted had tried to hire someone to do the removal cheaply.

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Many of the offences were detected after the fact, leading to concerns over the illegal dumping of asbestos waste.

‘Our waste people are also vigilant as to whether asbestos material is appearing in general landfill,’ Mr Pang said. If it did, and the dumpers were found, they could be prosecuted under the Waste Disposal Ordinance.

Most asbestos in Hong Kong was found in fibre cement sheeting, where it was generally fairly benign.

‘Unless you remove it by force, with a lot of violence, it should stay embedded.’

However, when the sheets are damaged, there is a potential for the fibres to become airborne, thus creating a health hazard.

‘If asbestos is not handled properly, then it becomes a problem.’

While the Air Pollution Control Ordinance specifies fines of up to $100,000 for a first offence and $200,000 for subsequent offences, most penalties fall far below that.

Asked whether he thought the current regime was providing a sufficient deterrent, Mr Pang said: ‘We will respect the courts’ decision on what the appropriate fine is.’

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