Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said that lead contamination in the water supply at Kai Ching Estate is “most likely” from soldering materials containing lead, while concerns over the use of substandard materials by mainland Chinese contractors remain unresolved.

Addressing questions about the use of prefabricated parts from Shenzhen, Leung said that “at the moment, there is no evidence to show that pipes made in Hong Kong do not have a problem, while pipes made outside of Hong Kong do have problems.”

Chief Executive CY Leung Chun-ying
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on lead contamination. Photo: Now TV.

In a statement issued late Monday evening, the government addressed the use of prefabricated parts in the construction of Kai Ching Estate: “The bathrooms in all six blocks of Kai Ching Estate were basically pre-fabricated ones, with the pipes of about half of them being fitted on the Mainland. The kitchens of only two blocks were pre-fabricated ones, with the pipes of about half of them fitted on the Mainland.” Of seven water samples found to contain amounts of lead exceeding World Health Organisation standards, only one was taken from a prefabricated pipe assembled in mainland China.

The statement contradicted comments made earlier by Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, who said on Monday morning that only a small number of prefabricated parts were used.

Beijing-based contractor China State Construction Engineering has refused to respond to the concerns, while subsidiary company Shenzhen Hailong Construction Products has denied that their prefabricated parts are to blame.

Parent company blacklisted.

Stand News revealed on Monday that the parent company of China State Construction Engineering, China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) has been blacklisted by the World Bank, making it ineligible for financial support from the international institution.

In 2009, the company was one of the seven suspected of collusion in an infrastructure project in the Philippines and was banned by the World Bank for six years. In response to a report, CSCEC clarified in 2015 that the issue did not relate to the Hong Kong-listed companies.

China State Construction Engineering, along with its sister company China Overseas Land & Investment, are both listed companies in Hong Kong. Both enlist well-known political and business figures as non-executive directors, including Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai of the National People’s Congress and brothers Adrian Li Man-kiu and Brian Li Man-bun, heads of the Bank of East Asia.

CSCEC property developments
An incomplete list of CSCEC property developments in Hong Kong. Photo: HKFP.

Projects managed by CSCEC in Hong Kong include infrastructure works such as the border facilities for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and part of the delayed Central-Wanchai bypass. Aside from being contracted on at least 11 public housing projects, the company is also involved in at least 15 private property developments.

Pan-democrat legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan, who first exposed the issue, has appealed for the government to stop contracting to mainland Chinese companies. Wong said the Democratic Party may consider submitting a report to the ICAC to determine whether the presence of corruption.

The chief executive also added that the government will immediately replace exposed pipe connections along estate corridors that have used soldering materials with lead content. For connections within apartments, Leung said they will arrange for the replacement of lead-laden connections with homeowners. He added that the the government will install alternate plumbing from rooftop water tanks to each floor, so that residents would not have to carry water up the stairs.

In comments made to Mingpao, environmental science professor Chris Wong Kwok-chu said that since only seven samples amongst 115 had lead content exceeding WHO levels, the issue may only be confined to a small number of pipes and the government may not need to replace all of them.

Arthur Lo is an undergraduate student currently on a gap year. During Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement protests, he worked as a fixer, translator and producer for foreign media outlets such as Al-Jazeera.