The government has decided to check water samples at all public housing estates, three months after the first case of lead water contamination was uncovered.

Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu said that water samples from public estates built before 2005 will now be examined. 

The announcement was made at a Legislative Council house committee special meeting. Previously, the Housing Authority (HA) and the Water Supplies Department were only checking water samples at estates built after 2005.

Under Secretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu
Under Secretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu. File Photo: Stand News.

“The pipes of public estates built before 2005 were not connected by welding using soldering materials, and the risk of lead water contamination was lower,” he said, “but to make the residents of the estates feel safe, the chairman of the HA [Anthony Cheung Bing-leung] decided to go one step further.”

He said that the government will not check water samples from all buildings at each estate – only a few will be selected. If water samples showed lead contamination, all buildings in the estate would then be checked. He said that he hoped the process would be finished by the end of this year.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam at the LegCo meeting.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. File Photo: LegCo screen capture.

At the same meeting, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said that the Hospital Authority has checked blood samples of 4,890 people, of which 162 or 3 percent showed excessive lead in blood. Water samples from 243 kindergartens were checked, and lead contamination was discovered in three of them.

She said that the incident proved that “related sectors did not understand the issue of lead contamination and its impact to health well enough” and that the construction companies should bear the biggest responsibility.

She added that there was inadequate regulation, but “[we] cannot see any evidence that our colleagues in the civil service have any shortcomings.”

Lam said the government was still researching how to compensate the affected residents.

Questions on accountability

The lead water contamination issue was first brought to light by the Democratic Party in July, after which 11 public housing estates and various schools across Hong Kong were found with excessive lead content in their water supplies.

In October, the HA announced that it will be punishing the four contractors involved in the construction of the housing estates. However, a HA review committee report showing interim findings on the lead water scare has been criticised for failing to touch on issues of accountability and penalties.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.