Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said that the government will set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the issue of lead contamination in the water supply at public housing estates.

The Commission will be tasked with: determining the cause of the incident; reviewing the adequacy of the control measures for drinking water supply systems in public and private buildings; and providing recommendations to ensure the safety of Hong Kong’s water.

“The Hong Kong government attaches great importance to this incident,” Leung said, “and hence has established this independent Commission of inquiry in order to conduct an investigation that is independent and comprehensive, and possesses legal authority.”

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

Among other powers, the Commission of Inquiry – chaired by a judge – will allows its commissioners to:

  • Summon any person to give evidence and issue warrants for arrests if one fails to comply.
  • Receive and consider any evidence, even if such evidence would not be admissible in civil or criminal proceedings.
  • The right to enter and inspect any premises and exercise other powers “as may be necessary” as long as they are for the purposes of inquiry.

However, evidence provided to the Commission cannot be used in court, unless an individual is charged with perjury.

Last Saturday, the government confirmed that Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City had lead concentrations in its water supply exceeding World Health Organisation standards. On Tuesday, lead contamination was also confirmed in water at Kwai Luen Estate Phase II in Kwai Chung. The incidents have raised concerns over the quality of public housing apartments and the China-based contractors who were hired to construct them.

On Wednesday, Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the government will conduct water sampling at ten more public estates whose construction was also completed after 2013 in order to ease public concerns. Hong Kong’s Housing Society also announced on Friday that it will conduct water sampling at all 20 domestic rental unit estates.

Lam Tak-shum
Licensed plumber Lam Tak-shum.

On Thursday, Lam Tak-shum, a licensed plumber responsible for overseeing the plumbing of Kai Ching Estate, said that responsibility for the procurement of materials lay not with him but the company that employs him, Ho Biu Kee. Lam was previously fingered by the government as the person responsible for the contamination.

Lam further revealed that Ho Biu Kee is contracted for various projects, including private housing and a building for St.Paul’s Hospital still currently under construction. Ho Biu Kee has refused to reply to any media inquiries.

Political parties have also initiated investigations at various estates. The Democratic Party, which first revealed the contamination at Kai Ching Estate, publicised water samples on Friday which showed that Shui Chuen O Estate in Sha Tin and Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate both returned samples containing lead. One sample from Shui Chuen O Estate was 24 times the World Health Organisation standard of 10 micrograms per litre.

Ann Chiang Lai-wun of the pro-Beijing DAB party also presented test results on Thursday showing that water taps at Kai Ching Estate contained 1.82 times more lead content and 17.12 times more manganese content than European Union standards.

Stanley Ying yiu-hong
Stanley Ying yiu-hong, Director of Housing Authority.

Stanley Ying Yiu-hong, head of the Housing Authority, said that two soldering material samples taken from an empty apartment in Kai Ching Estate were found to be 50 per cent lead. However, water samples taken from the same apartment showed no signs of lead contamination, raising doubts as to whether the soldering material used was the sole source of contamination.

A Commission of Inquiry was last appointed to investigate the facts of the Lamma Island ferry collision in 2012, which killed 39 people and injured 92 others.

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.