The contractor responsible for building some of the Hong Kong public housing estates hit by the lead-in-water scandal this week appeared before an official inquiry, where they expressed their regret but denying any wrongdoing.

In testimony presented on Monday to the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water, a China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) representative said its contract with the Housing Authority (HA) had been too opaque.

The Chinese company’s housing project manager and director said that although their contract for Kai Ching Estate—the first of 11 to report excessive lead levels—stipulated that soldering materials used to connect water pipes must not contain lead, it did not specify that the water must be safe for drinking.

Kai Ching Estate.

Although they did not deliberately use substandard materials, the CSCEC rep admitted that they had been overly dependent on subcontractors and that monitoring mechanisms could be improved, Ming Pao reported. He added that they had years of experience in public housing projects and they had no reason to breach regulations.

In his response, the HA’s legal counsel recognised that CSCEC had established procedures to ensure that materials met the conditions of the contract; however, they had not inspected soldering materials sent to the construction site. He added that the company had shifted blame onto subcontractors, Oriental Daily reported.

Kai Ching Estate, one of the 11 public housing estates affected by lead water contamination. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Chan Siu-wing, representative for CSCEC’s Hung Hom Estate (Phase Two) project, admitted that the soldering material sent to the construction sites were not checked thoroughly and that it should have been the contractor’s responsibility to do so.

Chairman of the Commission Andrew Chan Hing-wai said that whilst the written instructions were impressive, their application had been circumstantial.

The lead contamination issue was first brought to light by the Democratic Party in July, after which water from public housing estates and various schools across Hong Kong was found to contain excessive lead content. In October, the HA announced that it will be punishing the four contractors responsible for the housing estates affected.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.