Finding of Bacteria Behind Legionnaires’ Disease Worries Residents of Hong Kong Public Estate

Posted in: Crisis Response, Drinking Water News, Global Water News, Health effects
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Employees of the Water Supplies Department get down to work at Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City yesterday. Photo Credit: Nora Tam

Article courtesy of Shirley Zhao and Gloria Chan | July 14, 2015 | South China Morning Post | Shared as educational material

The discovery of a pneumonia-causing bacteria at a Kowloon City public housing estate yesterday has fueled anxiety among residents who are already on tenterhooks because of their lead-contaminated drinking water.

The water woes at Kai Ching Estate have yet to be resolved since the government confirmed on Thursday the presence of lead in samples taken from flats.

Now, residents of Mun Ching House, where legionella bacteria has been found, have to contend with fears about legionnaires’ disease as well.

One occupant said her husband had initially asked her not to go home upon learning the news, fearing a disease outbreak.

“We hope the government can solve this as soon as possible,” she said. “We used to feel safe living here, but now it’s becoming really chaotic.”

Another resident claimed the government had rushed her into moving in two years ago before checking to ensure everything was fine. Fung Kiu, in her 50s, used to live at an old building in Yau Ma Tei until the Urban Renewal Authority decided to redevelop the area.

“The government sent people to look at the flat with us at that time but nobody mentioned problems with the water pipes,” said Fung, who lives on the 26th floor of Mun Ching.

Residents of the two-year-old Kai Ching Estate had been fetching water at eight temporary collection points set up by the Water Supplies Department since initial tests found lead in levels exceeding World Health Organisation standards.

They could also help themselves to boxes of bottled water the Housing Department distributed to all six blocks on the estate.

A worker carts boxes of bottled water to Kai Ching residents. Photo Credits: Nora Tam

Tam Chi-yeung, 57, who lives with his wife and daughter, was one of those who had been lugging home containers of water from outside the building since Sunday two or three times a day.

He expressed worries about legionnaires’ disease affecting the building’s water system, saying he would follow a doctor’s advice to boil the tap water before using it to bathe and to brush his teeth. “I feel really angry,” he said. “We moved here in 2013 and had been using the water without knowing what was happening.”

The family were waiting for the government to arrange blood tests for them, he said.

Tom Fun, 93, who lives alone, said his family had urged him to dine at restaurants outside the housing estate, since he did not cook and always ate out.

Fun said he would have to take his daily cup of coffee elsewhere as well – though he was not afraid of the disease.

“I’m 93 years old,” he said. “I have nothing to be afraid of.”

Meanwhile, the contamination fears had also spooked restaurants on the estate.

A chef at Kong’s Dim Sum said the water scare had greatly affected takings over the weekend.

“Business has become much quieter,” he said. “Usually, all the food we prepared would be sold, but yesterday we had a lot of leftovers in the kitchen.”

But Yoyo Chan, manager of a 7-Eleven convenience store, said: “There has not been a big difference in the number of people buying water from us. So we did not stock more bottled water.”

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