Calls for Checks Across Hong Kong as Lead Found in More Tap Water Samples

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Global Water News, Water Contamination
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A residents fills up his kettle from a street suppy as authorities warned the drinking water was tainted with lead in Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City. (Photo Credit: Felix Wong)

Article courtesy of Emily Tsang | July 12, 2015 | South China Morning Post | Shared as educational material

Public housing residents are piling pressure on the government to check tap water at all estates across Hong Kong as a spreading contamination scare sows fear among them.

Days after intial tests revealed excessive levels of lead in the water from Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City, residents from Kwai Luen Estate, one of the four public housing estates that used the same licensed plumber, urged the Housing Department today to check all new public housing blocks for similar problems.

But the Housing Department said it has yet to decide whether this is necessary.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and a group of public housing residents protested outside the headquarters of the Housing Department this morning, demanding drinking water tests at all public housing estates in the city.

Before leaving Hong Kong for a visit to Beijing, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he attached great importance to the matter.

He noted that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam has coordinated the relevant departments to handle the situation, including providing a temporary water supply, investigating the source and affected areas, as well as finding a reliable long-term solution.

After three more samples were found to breach World Health Organisation safety levels, tests will now be carried out at four other estates – Lung Yat Estate in Tuen Mun, Cheung Sha Wan Estate in Sham Shui Po, Shui Chuen O Estate in Sha Tin, and Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung – all of which used the same licensed plumber as the Kai Ching Estate.

Bottled water was flying off supermarket shelves. (Photo Credit: Felix Wong)

The water scare – which has caused scenes reminiscent of the 1970s on the estate with residents taking water from fire hydrants – comes as the government pledges to give priority to livelihood issues. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was quick to react.

“The Hong Kong government is highly concerned about the incident,” she said after chairing an inter-departmental meeting on the issue yesterday.

“The priority now is to instruct the building contractor to provide a resolution to locate all possible pipe parts which might contain lead, and to replace them as soon as possible with the least interruption to residents.”

As officials moved to calm health fears and offer blood tests to residents deemed high-risk, it has also emerged that a possible cause of the contamination could be soldering materials used at pipe joints.

Director of Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong said three of the 36 water samples taken in the latest batch of tests were found to have a lead amount which exceeded the World Health Organisation guideline, which states the lead value in drinking water should not go above 10 micrograms per litre.

Lead levels in three samples taken from three different flats were 10.8mcg, 11.6mcg and 35.1mcg per litre. So far, a total of seven water samples taken from households at four different blocks in Kai Ching were found to exceed the WHO guideline.

Ying said the location of the flats affected could not be disclosed for privacy reasons, but owners had been notified of the contamination.

Long term exposure to lead, when accumulated in large amounts in the body, may result in anaemia, increased blood pressure and brain and kidney damage, according to the Department of Health.

Director of Water Supplies Enoch Lam Tin-sing said since soldering materials containing lead were found at pipe joints in two unused flats – a violation of the contract – the department would consider prosecuting the plumber, Lam Tak-sum, who is responsible for the projects.

Lam said the department would widen the testing to four other public housing estates which could have the same contamination as they were also under the care of the same plumber.

Ho Kwong-ming, a registered plumber, believed some substandard material could have been used as soldering materials at the pipe joints which released lead into the water supply.

All five public estates involved are relatively new projects. Kai Ching Estate, with more than 5,000 households, was built two years ago.

Dr Regina Ching Cheuk-tuen, the Department of Health’s community medicine consultant, said high-risk groups including children under six, pregnant women and lactating mothers should avoid drinking the tainted water. She stressed that the levels of lead in the samples represented no significant risk to health unless there was lifelong consumption.

Tens of thousands of bottles of water have been arranged for families at Kai Ching. Bottled water was flying off the shelves at local supermarkets, and some residents said they would temporarily move out.

One woman said she would not risk the health of her two young sons, and would buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. “I don’t know if my flat is affected. Although the government is giving us water, it is better to stock in some bottled water first,” she said.

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