LCQ6: Alleged malpractice at Pillar Point Valley Restored Landfill

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Fernando Cheung and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):


     In April this year, the media uncovered that the contractor managing the Pillar Point Valley Restored Landfill (PPVRL) had, during the period between November last year and January this year, discharged into the sea leachate arising from PPVRL which had a total nitrogen concentration (TNC) exceeding, by more than 50%, the limit stipulated in the licence granted to the contractor. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) confirmed after investigation that the contractor had contravened the relevant requirements and imposed penalties on the contractor. In October this year, it was reported that leachate with TNC exceeding the limit by 40 per cent had been discharged into the sea by the contractor (the second exceedance). The EPD had all along not made public the incident despite knowledge of it. On the other hand, the prolonged rainfall in August and September this year resulted in the increase in the leachate arising from PPVRL to a level exceeding the handling capacity of the contractor, causing the EPD to activate the emergency mechanism under which untreated leachate was discharged into public sewers and then treated directly by the Pillar Point Sewage Treatment Works (PPSTW). The EPD indicated last month that an investigation team had been set up to investigate the alleged malpractices of the contractor. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the volume of untreated leachate arising from the aforesaid landfill which was treated by PPSTW since the activation of the emergency mechanism; whether TNC of such leachate has exceeded the limit; whether the EPD will, under the normal procedure, make any announcement upon the activation of the emergency mechanism; if the EPD will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) as the Secretary for the Environment indicated in May this year that the EPD had stepped up its inspection and monitoring of the work the contractor, why the second exceedance still occurred; whether the Environment Bureau has reviewed the effectiveness of the relevant work; and
(3) whether it will make public the contents of the contract signed with the contractor; when it will release the findings of the investigation team; whether such findings will have implications on the scores given by the Government to the contractor in future tendering exercises for contracts of the same type, and whether the Government will take up the management of restored landfills itself in future, instead of outsourcing the work?
     The Environment Bureau (ENB) and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) always attach great importance to the management and supervision of our facilities' contractors. As regards the alleged malpractices of the Contractor of the Pillar Point Valley Restored Landfill (PPVRL) (the Contractor), the EPD has set up earlier an investigation team to investigate into the matter. The investigation team has submitted a preliminary investigation report to the Director of Environmental Protection and sought explanations and responses from the Contractor and concerned parties about the alleged malpractices. The team is in the process of collating all the information for the preparation of the final report. Given that the EPD has initiated prosecution process against the Contractor on the suspected violations of the Water Pollution Control (General) Regulations, the EPD will release the investigation results after a court verdict has been given about the prosecution cases in order not to affect the concerned cases.
     Since the occurrence of the incident, the EPD has immediately stepped up the inspection and monitoring works of the PPVRL. The EPD has thoroughly reviewed the monitoring system in May this year, and promptly implemented improvement measures, including stepping up the frequency of irregular inspections; identifying new leachate sampling points to ensure representativeness of the sample collected; strengthening the training to EPD's on-site staff to enhance their technical knowledge and raising their awareness; and arranging the installation of additional monitoring equipment, such as closed-circuit television system, to closely monitor the operation of the concerned waste facilities. Moreover, the EPD has further stepped up the monitoring of leachate discharge from the PPVRL’s leachate treatment plant (LTP) with regular collections of samples for analysis by the Government Laboratory.
     During the course of investigation of the matter, the EPD identified that the LTP was not functioning properly in treating the leachate to a level in compliance with the contract requirements. The EPD immediately instructed the Contractor to carry out thorough inspection of all plant and equipment and repair works. Prior to the resumption of full treatment capability of the LTP, the EPD made special temporary arrangement in order to ensure that the leachate arising from the PPVRL could be properly handled; the less concentrated leachate to be tankered to the Pillar Point Sewage Treatment Works (PPSTW) of the Drainage Services Department (DSD) while the more concentrated leachate to the West New Territories Landfill for proper treatment. 
     Due to the heavy rainfalls experienced during this wet season, the quantity of leachate generation exceeded the tankered volume that could be delivered to the aforesaid treatment facilities, resulting in accumulation of leachate in the storage tanks at the PPVRL to reaching almost their storage limits. To prevent the leachate from overflowing from the storage tanks and causing pollution to the nearby water course, the EPD allowed the Contractor, after exhausting all feasible means and with the leachate storage tanks still exceeded the alarm levels, to arrange for emergency discharges to the PPSTW via the public sewer for treatment.
     The subsequent analysis of effluent samples collected during such emergency discharges confirmed exceedance of the licensing limit in total nitrogen. We estimate that between May and October 2016, emergency discharge of leachate amounting to 16 000 cubic metres, which accounts for less than one per cent of the treatment capacity of the PPSTW for the same period, with total nitrogen exceeding the licensing limit was discharged to the PPSTW. According to the DSD sampling results, the effluent quality of the PPSTW in 2016 has consistently been in compliance with the licence requirements under the Water Pollution Control Ordinance. The EPD has also examined the monitoring data collected from the marine monitoring stations which showed no abnormality during the period when these emergency discharges were made. It should be pointed out that the aforementioned emergency discharges were not made directly to the sea, but conveyed to the PPSTW for treatment and disinfection together with other sewage collected within the area, and then dispersed to the sea via a submarine outfall. As such discharges would not bring material impacts to the environment or the public's daily lives, and the submarine outfall is located away from water sensitive bodies such as bathing beaches, the EPD did not make any announcement about the discharges.
     The EPD has been closely monitoring the progress of the LTP's repair works to prevent further emergency discharges as far as possible. As demanded by the EPD, the Contractor has completed the first phase of repair works, and partially resumed the LTP's operation in mid-October this year consequently stopping completely the emergency discharges to the public sewer. The EPD has also demanded the Contractor to complete the second phase overhaul works as soon as possible with a view to resuming full operation of the LTP.
     In regard to the breach of contract provisions and legislative requirements by the Contractor, the EPD is promptly following up the matter; through laying summons to initiate prosecution against the Contractor on November 21, 2016 and deducting operation payments due to the Contractor. Up to early December 2016, the EPD has already deducted operation payments with total amount in excess of $3.9 million. The EPD will continue to follow up other breaches by the Contractor and will hold the Contractor liable in accordance with the relevant contract provisions and regulations. In respect of the Contractor’s breaches of the contractual and regulatory requirements during the operation of PPVRL, the EPD has also fully reflected them in the latest Contractor's performance report. The performance report will directly affect the assessment rating in tender evaluation of the Contractor's submission in bidding of new government contracts and eventually the chance of contract award in the future.  
     Regarding the contract signed with the Contractor, having regard to the public interest and the right to know, the EPD will disclose the contract except those parts containing the Contractor’s commercially sensitive information.

     Currently, the EPD has no plan or sufficient manpower resources to take over the management of the restored landfills from the contractors. We would continue to enhance monitoring under the existing contract mechanism, and strengthen enforcement works to ensure the stringent management and operation of the restored landfills.

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:54