The Democratic Party has urged the government to find out how solid metal residue including lead and tin appeared in the drinking water of a Shau Kei Wan public housing estate. They also called on the government to install water filters for residents and provide a source of clean drinking water immediately.

The party received complaints about water quality – tap water coming out brown – in September of last year. The situation improved after water filters were installed in Oi Yat House of the Oi Tung Estate, but the brown water recently returned. The party examined drinking water from eight units in the estate last month.

It said laboratory tests on water taken from several taps at the estate found two grams of impurities in 20 litres of water, of which 28 per cent was lead and 26 per cent was tin. Other impurities included iron, aluminium, copper and zinc.

lead in water
Impurities found in water from Oi Yat House of Oi Tung Estate. Photo: Handout.

“We were very shocked by the result,” said the party’s lawmaker Ted Hui. He said although the impurities were solid and thus less likely to be absorbed in the body, they may dissolve when residents digest acidic substances and food.

Hui said it was unacceptable for the Water Supplies Department to maintain that the water quality was fine: “Is it also acceptable if the water at officials’ homes contained the same impurities and metal?”

He said although it was not confirmed that drinking the water could cause health issues, the government should help ease residents’ concerns.

The party’s community officer So Yat-hang said the department told them that the impurities may have come from pipes, but he was unconvinced, as the department installed water filters in the building a year ago.

“It has been more than a year – is it possible that these particles stayed for so long? We hope the department will find the source, because residents should not drink this brown water,” he said.

2015 lead scandal

In 2015, safety concerns arose after excess lead was discovered in drinking water at 11 public housing estates. A Commission of Inquiry the following year found that lead soldering material used by contractors caused the contamination and the episode was a collective failure.

lead in water

Adding to the controversy, the government failed to take minutes during seven inter-departmental meetings related to the issue.

Of more than 5,000 residents checked at the time, 165 had above-normal lead levels in their blood, some of which were pregnant women and children. Ten of the children showed signs of developmental delay. But experts at the Department of Health said there was no solid evidence to show that the children’s intelligence level may be affected.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

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.