Water samples taken from a stream leading to Ha Pak Nai – a wetland area in the New Territories – have been found to contain excessive levels of ammonia. The source of contamination may be the adjacent landfill, according to lawmaker Michael Tien.

Tien said on Wednesday that he received complaints from fishery operators nearby, and commissioned the Hong Kong Productivity Council to investigate. Samples were taken from an upstream area and a downstream area: one sample showed 950 miligrammes of ammonia per litre, while another showed 20 miligrammes per litre.

Michael Tien. Photo: Line Post Facebook screenshot.

The Hong Kong Productivity Council’s report stated that the nearby West New Territories Landfill – the largest of Hong Kong’s three strategic landfills – may be the source of pollutants.

“On August 13, the sample we got – which was after a few days of torrential rain already, diluting a lot of contaminated source water that was coming from upstream – we measured 20 miligramme per litre,” Tien said.

“The acceptable level published by the [Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department] for a fish pond is 0.1 miligramme per litre in terms of ammonia content,” he added.

Cheng Wai-kwan, the village representative of Ha Pak Nai who runs a fishery, said residents called the police to report contaminated water flowing into the village. The Environmental Protection Department sent officials to collect samples, but later told villagers that no samples were collected, Cheng said.

West New Territories Landfill (left) and Ha Pak Nai (right). Photo: Google Maps.

“We are disappointed in the way the Environmental Protection Department regulates the operation of the landfill, and that it told so many lies,” Cheng said.

“Over the past 20 years, our village saw a lot of fish and oysters die… When the [EPD] came, they said there was no pollution, and said there was no impact on the fisheries and oyster farms,” he added.

Ha Pak Nai, a wetland area in Yuen Long, is known for rich biodiversity in its mud banks and is a popular spot for sunset viewing.

Contractor problems

On Wednesday, Tien also criticised SITA Waste Services Limited, which is responsible for running the West New Territories Landfill.

West New Territories Landfill. File photo: GovHK.

“What is the story behind this particular contractor?… Why is it that this contractor won the entire [West New Territories] Landfill and also half of the [North East New Territories] Landfill?” Tien said.

“This one company is responsible for probably 70, 80 per cent of total Hong Kong landfill waste material treatment, in the midst of a horrendous record in the past of various kinds of penalties.”

A 2016 EPD investigation revealed that, at a landfill site managed by SITA, up to 800 tonnes of polluted water was discharged into the sea daily for three months. In 2013, contaminated water was found to have leaked from the SITA-managed North East New Territories Landfill to a nearby river.

Tien said the company annually receives HK$300 million from the government for operating landfills, and fines would not be an effective deterrent. A possible alternative is to ban SITA from bidding for future waste management contracts, he said.

The mud banks at Ha Pak Nai. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

HKFP has reached out to SITA for comment.

The EPD said that its officials conducted a spot check at the West New Territories Landfill on August 7, and found contaminated water was leaking. The officials had already gathered samples and will take legal action if there is enough evidence, the EPD said.

The EPD added that it had warned the contractor and told them to fix the problem, and the contractor complied on the same day.

On Tuesday, HK01 reported that there were dark fluids – described as “garbage juice” – leaking from the landfill. A sampling test conducted by the news outlet showed that ammonia levels exceeded the acceptable limit by 48,000 times.

HK01 also reported that there was a designated area where the “garbage juice” was collected, and a pipe would channel it so that it flowed into the nearby stream.

Correction: 18:33: A previous version of the piece quoted Tien as saying SITA received HK$300 billion as opposed to HK$300 million from the government.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.