Environmental Protection Department Environment Hong Kong 2004
Vision and Mission Foreword Contents Home English Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese
1. Hong Kong's Environment 2. Community Awareness 3. Customer Service and Partnership 4. Environmental Assessment and Planning 5. Air 6. Noise 7. Waste 8. Water 9. Enforcement

Resource Materials


To serve the community through enforcing pollution control laws to safeguard people's health and welfare.
Chapter 9


Highlights in 2003
Published the EPD's Prosecution Policy on the EPD website.
Received the Special Achievement in Geographical Information System Awards for our GIS-based complaint information database system, at the 23rd Annual ESRI International User Conference held in July 2003 in San Diego, USA.
Resolved over 40 per cent of pollution complaints and 94 per cent of enquiries over the phone, at the EPD Customer Service Centre.
Handled 19 889 complaints and 43 778 enquiries, and undertook 577 prosecutions.
Conducted 52 seminars to provide technical advice to more than 5 770 participants.


Telephone complaints and enquiries are quickly answered by operators of the EPD Customer Service Centre.
Telephone complaints and enquiries are quickly answered by operators of the EPD Customer Service Centre.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has achieved significant improvements in Hong Kong's environment over the past two years, especially in air and water quality. Yet, paradoxically, the number of people complaining about pollution has remained steady. People have woken up to the advantages of a cleaner environment, and the standards for what constitutes an acceptable environment have become higher than ever. Improvements in one area only help to highlight the shortcomings in another. This is a welcome development because it indicates community support for environmental protection programmes. But it also raises the issue of how best to respond to complaints and violations.

Complainants want action and a sympathetic ear. We have introduced many improvements to our handling of complaints, as described in the Customer Service and Partnership chapter. We have also continued to refine our enforcement and prosecution capabilities, to ensure that violations witnessed by the public and our own staff are acted upon. New technology and tighter resources create demands and constraints on our enforcement programme, and have necessitated some changes in the way we do things. Nonetheless, we are committed to upholding anti-pollution laws in this ever-changing environment.


People complain when they perceive damage is being done to their environment or themselves by excessive pollution. Complaints reached a high point in 2000 when more than 25 000 complaints were received, coinciding with worsening smog and higher public expectations. The figure quickly tapered off to about 20 000 and has stayed there, even though in the past three years street-level air pollution is much improved, water quality in parts of Victoria Harbour and several beaches is better and construction noise is down. Complaints about these problems have been replaced with concerns about other pollution sources.

For example, air pollution complaints have remained steady even though the number of smoky vehicles has been reduced by more than 60 per cent as a result of our air programme (see Air chapter for details). The problem of smog and regional air pollution has replaced worries about street-level emissions, and the EPD is receiving more complaints than ever about general air quality during high Air Pollution Index days, often through the media.

The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in March 2003 also led to more complaints. The outbreak focused attention on poor environmental hygiene, which was feared to be a factor in the spread of the disease. More people than ever complained about the illegal disposal of waste and water-related issues such as broken pipes and discharges in backlanes. The EPD joined the government's Team Clean to improve hygiene in the community. Inspections and other enforcement work were stepped up in tandem with other departments to rectify such problems as illegal connections to storm water drains and improperly maintained septic tanks (see boxes for details). This attention to hygiene may also have contributed to an increase in complaints against restaurants, although prosecutions were down.


Many New Territories villages are awaiting connection to public sewers, and in the meantime use septic tanks and soakaway systems to treat their waste water. Unfortunately, occasional problems with these methods have led to environmental hygiene concerns. Septic tanks that are not properly operated or maintained can overflow, polluting surface drains and receiving waters. Rainy weather worsens the problem. With soakaway pits, some villagers have by-passed the pits and illegally discharged raw sewage through overflow pipes and submersible pumps, in breach of the Water Pollution Control Ordinance.

During the SARS outbreak, when public concern about hygiene was very high, the EPD received a complaint about improper handling of sewage in a North District village. The complainant was worried this might help to spread SARS. The EPD investigated and found three houses had installed submersible pumps in their septic tanks and a number of others had installed concealed overflow pumps. Warning letters were issued to the three houses and information pamphlets and advisory letters were issued to all 123 house owners in the village. The EPD also dismantled the submersible pumps and plugged overflow pipes. Similar problems are believed to exist in other villages in the area. Until they are all connected to public sewers, the EPD will have to rely on stepped-up enforcement and better commitment from house owners to address the problem.


The EPD deals with most complaints over the phone by explaining the law and the EPD's policies to callers. For serious complaint cases that require follow-up, and for initiatives such as Team Clean, the department has an enforcement team of about 330 officers who make inspections and, where necessary, gather evidence for prosecution.

"Team Clean"

The EPD was involved with Team Clean in 2003, a Hong Kong SAR Government initiative to improve public cleanliness in the wake of the SARS outbreak. One area we focused on was Tsuen Wan, where four blackspots and a pilot model site had been identified by Team Clean. The EPD was asked to investigate misconnections to storm water drains and help to rectify these problems.

Apart from carrying out investigations in the area, the EPD worked closely with Team Clean and District Council members, and residents in the area. Advisory leaflets were issued to domestic premises and EPD staff visited all commercial premises in the pilot model site and the blackspot areas. In addition, three evening seminars were organised, as well as two roadshows that toured in the area. 80 misconnections were rectified, resulting in a reduction of 70 kilogrammes per day of biological oxygen demand (the equivalent of sewage from 1 300 people) going into local waters.



A GIS system is adopted to enhance our response and monitoring work.
A GIS system is adopted to enhance our response and monitoring work.

As the main enforcer of environmental protection laws, the EPD has had to adjust to many changes over the years. Increases in the number of laws, in complaints, in public expectations and in industry demands for more assistance and consultation have led to a number of refinements to our enforcement work. Six regional Local Control Offices have been set up to bring officers closer to the sources of pollution. Partnership programmes have been established to ensure operators are well-informed about their legal obligations towards the environment. Our complaints response system has been updated to enable speedy action. New technologies, such as a geographical information system (GIS) and webcams, have been adopted to enhance our response time and our monitoring work. Recently, we have had to make further adjustments as the EPD, like all other government departments, faces budget constraints.

An EPD inspector tries out a palm-held device in enforcement work.
An EPD inspector tries out a palm-held device in enforcement work.

The EPD's enforcement work involves conducting routine inspections and responding to complaints. To save on resources, these functions are being combined. A pilot "beat" system has been introduced on a trial basis, in which officers out on routine work are on call to respond to complaints. Palm-held devices are being developed to enable officers to input simple data on site and download it onto their computers, rather than having to type it out when they return to the office. More sophisticated mobile computing will be introduced next year to enable more information to be recorded on site, such as statements for evidence.


Our partnership with restaurants helps the trade operate in a more environmentally friendly manner.
Our partnership with restaurants helps the trade operate in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Another development in 2003 has been targeted enforcement actions against suspected polluters. These usually require night patrols as this is when the offences tend to occur. Targeted patrols were carried out against illegal livestock waste and oil discharges - persistent problems that are difficult to detect in routine inspections. The Local Control Offices are also continuing to crack down on improper sewage connections in domestic premises to prevent people from dumping their sewage in local waters without treatment (see boxes for details).


(Top) Kai Tak Nullah, a main storm water channel in Southeast Kowloon, has the bad odours much reduced after rectification of the misconnection problems at Tung Tau Estate, San Po Kong and Wong Tai Sin.
(Bottom) Upstream of Kai Tak Nullah at Wong Tai Sin.
(Top) Kai Tak Nullah, a main storm water channel in Southeast Kowloon, has the bad odours much reduced after rectification of the misconnection problems at Tung Tau Estate, San Po Kong and Wong Tai Sin.
(Bottom) Upstream of Kai Tak Nullah at Wong Tai Sin.

The SARS outbreak helped to focus people's attention on the cleanliness of their surroundings, particularly situations that might help to spread the disease. A number of complaints and comments were received about the misconnection of sewers, in which residential, commercial or industrial premises illegally discharge foul water down storm drains, rather than sewers. In view of this, the EPD stepped up inspections to identify and rectify misconnections, and worked closely with other government departments, the concerned District Councils and the Incorporated Owners of affected buildings. One area of focus was the Kai Tak nullah, a major storm water channel in southeast Kowloon which has long been a source of complaint for its bad odours.

The nullah is surrounded by dense urban development. In 2003 more than 20 misconnections were identified and rectified, including Block 22 of the Tung Tau Estate, a primary school and several residential buildings in San Po Kong and Wong Tai Sin. As a result, the pollution load in the nullah was drastically reduced by 260 kilogrammes per day of biological oxygen demand - the equivalent of sewage from 4 700 people. The odour problem is also much reduced, fish have returned to the nullah and egrets are feeding from its waters.


Inspections are intended to encourage compliance with the law, but inevitably offences occur. Fortunately, these are decreasing in number, but at the same time they have become more difficult to prosecute as more offenders plead not-guilty. Companies have financial reasons for avoiding environmental convictions, particularly for the construction industry because it means points will be deducted when they tender for government works contracts.



The EPD set up a Central Prosecution Section in 2001 which is responsible for training and prosecuting cases. In 2003, 577 cases were prosecuted, a number that has dropped significantly since reaching a peak in 2000 of 1 824 cases. Part of the reason for the decline is the economic downturn, which resulted in less noise-producing activity. Partnership programmes with the construction industry, restaurants, vehicle repair workshops and property management firms have also helped (see Customer Service and Partnership chapter for details). Still, as mentioned, those cases that are prosecuted have become more complex. The Central Prosecution Section deals with most of the trial cases and provides EPD officers with on-going training in gathering evidence and preparing cases.

The department has taken the step of publishing its prosecution policy on its website in the spirit of upholding justice and increasing transparency (see http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/news_events/current_issue/current_policy.html). The prosecution policy describes some of the guiding principles that are involved in deciding whether and how to prosecute. Just because a person is suspected of an environmental offence, it does not necessarily mean he will automatically face prosecution. The policy states: "In coming to a decision, the prosecutor must examine all the factors and the circumstances of the case, including the sufficiency of the evidence and whether a prosecution is in the interest of the public. No two cases are ever exactly the same and so the prosecutor must exercise an important discretion, on behalf of the community, as to whether a prosecution should be instituted and decide, once the process has begun, how a prosecution will be conducted."

Our prosecution policy describes our guiding principles for prosecutions.
Our prosecution policy describes our guiding principles for prosecutions.

The principles of openness and fairness underscore all of our enforcement work. As the public raises the goalposts - and as the EPD strives to provide a cleaner environment - enforcement activities will need to be adjusted to meet new demands and constraints. The rights of operators and of the public need to be balanced. But ultimately the goal is for the greater good. By encouraging greater compliance by potential polluters, it is hoped the general public can enjoy a better environment and have less reason to complain.




The Shing Mun River is one of the EPD's success stories, but it also illustrates the lingering impacts of pollution. Years ago, water quality in the river was poor, but a combination of measures to reduce and divert pollution loads resulted in the river being graded "good" in 1993. However, bad odours continued to be emitted from the pollutants that had settled on the river bottom. In 2001, work began on a project to address this problem. In the first phase, costing $50 million and completed in December 2002, bioremediation was used to treat the sediment and dredging and river-bed lining work were carried out. As a result, most of the source of the odour was eliminated, the sediment changed in appearance from black to brown, and a survey by the Civil Engineering Department found 92 per cent of Sha Tin residents felt the odour problem had improved. The second and final phase of the project, costing $40 million, began in September 2003. The remaining, less-polluted river sections will be treated and improvements in sediment and water quality will be monitored up to July 2006.

The Shing Mun River project has involved close co-operation with various sectors of the community. The EPD's Local Control Office (LCO) has maintained close contacts with the Sha Tin District Council and arranged visits to the river by Legislative Council members. Various activities were organised to promote public awareness, such as a concert, essay competition and carnival. The LCO also worked with the Education and Manpower Bureau to promote awareness of the project in local schools.


Looking Ahead

Set up a system to collate information on up-to-date powered mechanical equipment to assist the construction trade in preparing Construction Noise Permit applications.
Develop and implement web-based application of the GIS-based database system to enhance the response to pollution complaints.
Develop and implement a mobile computing solution for routine enforcement work.
Develop and implement an integrated database solution for streamlining multi-media enforcement workflow and data management.


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