The EPD's enforcement staff are in charge of licensing operators who create pollution. The operators are expected to treat their emissions or discharges to standards laid down in their licences. If they fail to meet these standards, or if they fail to get a licence, the enforcement staff will investigate, ask the polluter to stop, gather evidence, and prosecute if the case is warranted. Underpinning their work is the need to be fair and consistent, and to deter other polluters.
Licensing is a legal requirement and a major point of contact between the Regional Offices and polluters. It provides EPD's enforcement staff with information about polluting activities and gives them an opportunity to provide industry with information on reducing their pollution.
||Staff at the Customer Service Counter provides assistance in applying for environmental permits and licences
The EPD has set up one stop shop Customer Service Counters at its Regional Offices. Companies may need to apply for several permits or licences within various time such frames, which can be confusing. The Customer Service Counter aims to minimise confusion and staff are on hand to answer questions and help applicants fill in the forms. Applications are also available over the Internet at the EPD's web page (See Environmental Protection Interactive Centre.) Please refer to Where to Submit Application for the addresses of the Customer Service Counters.
Licensing has been used to encourage self-monitoring. The Water Pollution Control Ordinance requires major dischargers to monitor their effluent, which helps them to understand the components of their wastewater and the effectiveness of their treatment facilities.
Inspections are carried out on a regular basis, as well as in response to pollution complaints; polluters are not informed of them in advance. During inspections, a team of officers trained in air, noise, water and waste pollution control will assess the odour nuisance, dust and noise levels, quality of effluent discharges, waste disposal, and the operation of pollution abatement facilities. If any violation is suspected, operators concerned may be given a cautionary Yellow Form stating that they need to correct their pollution or legal action will be taken. If the problem persists, a detail investigation will start and evidence will be collected. A Pink Form will be issued stating legal action has been initiated. For serious cases, the Pink Form will be issued as soon as the violation is detected.
||The Yellow Form and Pink Form provide records of inspections
The purpose of inspections is to monitor compliance with the law. The frequency depends on history of the operator in obeying the law, severity of the potential pollution, public concern and complaints. Known pollution blackspots will also be inspected more frequently. Special equipment, such as night-view binoculars, and other government departments, such as the police, may be called in if necessary (see box on Special Investigations). Those who comply with the law are still inspected but less frequently and in less detail.
||Close monitoring of air, noise and water pollution is an important enforcement task
Pollution Abatement Notices
Polluters who contaminate the air or make too much noise will be told to rectify the problem and stop the nuisance immediately or by a certain date, as spelled out in pollution abatement notices. These notices apply mainly to noisy ventilating systems and pumping stations or greasy fumes from restaurants. Any operator who fails to comply with the pollution abatement notice will be prosecuted.
In some cases of air or noise pollution, prosecution will be undertaken without issuing an abatement notice. For instance, a factory discharging black smoke, a construction site emitting excessive dust or a shop trading very noisily would be prosecuted immediately.
Taking Offenders to Court
In deciding whether to prosecute an operator, enforcement officers are guided by the EPD's own principles, spelled out above, that take into account the seriousness of the pollution episode, the evidence collected and the compliance history of the operator. A prosecution would be undertaken if there were an unacceptable environmental nuisance or risk to public health, if the operator failed to comply with an abatement notice, or if false information were provided during an inspection or investigation. Please also see The Statement of Prosecution Policy for the Environmental Protection Department for further details.
Court decisions are independent of the EPD and some penalties may not provide a sufficient deterrent to some polluters. In light of this, and taking into account the fact that repeated convictions may result in heavier penalties, the EPD has decided to step up action against persistent polluters. The department no longer waits for the outcome of one court case before pursuing further prosecutions against the same offender and it will ask the court to impose daily fines for continued offences.
The EPD works closely with other government departments such as the Fire Services Department, Marine Department and Government Laboratory to provide a speedy response to environmental incidents. Comprehensive response plans are in place for dealing with different types of emergency situations on land and at sea, including oil and chemical spills.
The EPD provides dedicated support for all emergency situations and the Chemical Waste Treatment Centre contractor provides chemical waste collection and disposal services for incidents involving chemicals.
An Emergency Response Drill team was also set up in 1999 to enhance staff performance and readiness in emergency situations.
||Staff of Regional Offices and Territorial Control Office respond promptly to emergencies
Most polluters comply with the law but a few are becoming skilful at evading our regular enforcement activities. The Regional Offices have established special investigation teams to take intensive action against these operators. Two problems they have investigated successfully are fly-tipping and midnight dumping.
Fly-tippers drop their waste in remote locations and "fly" away, rather than take it to one of the three strategic landfill sites. Everything from dead pigs to consrtuction and demolition waste and used tyres has been dumped around the New Territories in this way. The Regional Offices have increased their inspection frequency at known blackspots and urged landowners and other parties to clean up their land, thus making it more difficult for fly-tippers to go undetected. The public has also helped by reporting and identifying illegal fly-tippers, who are prosecuted.
||"Fly-tipping" of waste creates eye-sores and problem of hygiene
Some polluters discharge their wastewater untreated in the middle of the night to save on electricity or waste disposal costs. The onus is on Regional Offices to catch them in the act and to collect evidence and sample, so they have launched round-the-clock surveillance and ambushes where necessary and launched prosecutions against midnight dumpers.
||Illegal discharges of wastewater caused serious problems in our water environment in the past