Reply To: Incinerator-promoting Hong Kong EPD unfazed by poor data


Another letter to S China Morning Post, published on 30 January 2014:

Au must come clean on new incinerator

Elvis W. K. Au, deputy director of environmental protection, continues as chief standard bearer for the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator project, with his letter ("Shek Kwu Chau chosen as site for incinerator after exhaustive process", January 18). He again makes questionable assertions.

Mr Au claims that potential health impacts are included in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the incinerator site. Yet with no trials involving Hong Kong waste, the EIA just states the emissions will reach European Union standards.

In a meeting of the Advisory Council on the Environment, Mr Au asserted that the incinerator technology would "completely destroy organic pollutants". This assertion is also made in an Environmental Protection Department assessment of waste treatment technologies.

Does the department have grounds for making such a bold claim?

All the information I have seen on incineration indicates that it produces substantial amounts of organic pollutants, and the pollutants removed from emissions make the chimney ash even more toxic. If the department has evidence to the contrary, it should be presented. If not, it is surely incumbent upon Mr Au to present a more honest picture of incineration.

This honest appraisal could also mention research linking incinerators to health impacts such as cancers and birth defects, and of cases in which incinerators have suffered accidents or created excessive emissions.

While incineration cannot destroy all organic pollutants, more advanced plasma arc waste treatment exposes materials to temperatures of 4,000-7,000 degrees Celsius – blasting molecules apart. There are minimal emissions, and inert glassy rock instead of ash.

The department has dismissed recommendations for adopting plasma arc waste treatment, relying partly on the increasingly outdated technology assessment, and with claims that a plant in Japan closed because of technical issues. Yet according to Richard Fish, president of technology provider Alter NRG, "the reasons for the closure were related specifically to a lack of feedstock – not problems with the technology".

Does the department have evidence to the contrary? If not, honesty is again called for.

In fact, after resolving early technical issues, the Japanese plant led to construction of the world's largest plasma arc waste treatment plant in Teesside, UK, which will begin commissioning within weeks.

There are technology suppliers and partners willing to work with Hong Kong, perhaps with a pilot plant as a step towards a facility that can be built much faster and at considerably less expense than the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator.

Dr Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors