Excessive levels of lead were found in four drinking water samples at Kwai Tsui Estate in Kwai Fong, according to lab tests conducted by the Democratic Party. One sample showed a lead concentration of 104 microgrammes per litre – more than ten times the safety threshold set out by the World Health Organisation.

Lawmakers Helena Wong and Andrew Wan said on Wednesday that multiple residents at Kwai Tsui Estate reported “murky pale liquid” coming out of the tap. Water samples from seven flats were tested, and four revealed unsafe concentrations of lead.

Kwai Tsui Estate Kwai Fong
Kwai Tsui Estate. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“Yesterday, I contacted the head of the Water Supplies Department to ask for their test results. If they followed proper procedures, in theory, we shouldn’t find [excessive lead levels] in newly built flats,” Wong said. “Was there a problem with the quality of the pipes? Was there a problem with the cleaning of the pipes?”

In a joint statement, the Housing Department and Water Supplies Department said they were in contact with the lawmakers and will conduct further tests. The departments also said the water supply system at Kwai Tsui Estate had passed multiple rounds of testing.

Third anniversary of scandal

The latest incident was discovered three years after the first lead contamination scandal. In 2015, one of the first locations affected was the nearby Kwai Luen Estate. The two-block Kwai Tsui Estate was completed earlier this year, and its 866 units are expected to house around 2,400 residents. The official move-in date was in April.

Andrew Wan Helena Wong lead water
Democratic Party lawmakers Andrew Wan and Helena Wong. Photo: Handout.

Wong said residents at the affected flats had just moved in when they discovered impurities in their tap water. The first test revealed lead concentration at 104 microgrammes per litre; a later re-testing, conducted with the filter removed, put the concentration at 14 microgrammes per litre.

Six other samples taken at different flats showed lead concentration ranging from six to 16 microgrammes per litre. The World Health Organisation’s provisional guideline value of lead in drinking water is ten microgrammes per litre.

The Housing Department and Water Supplies Department said in response that the contractor for Kwai Tsui Estate – Hip Hing Engineering – had conducted testing according to specifications. The water supply system was also approved by a WSD inspector and passed another round of tests.

Kai Ching Estate
Water Pipes at Kai Ching Estate, the first public housing estate found to have lead in water in 2015. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The departments added that it was a “normal and temporary phenomenon” for there to be leaching of lead from new internal plumbing systems.

District Council discussion

An emergency meeting will be convened among the residents of Kwai Tsui Estate on Thursday evening.

A meeting document from the Kwai Tsing District Council, dated March 8, shows that the pipes at Kwai Tsui Estate were supplied by Chinese and UK manufacturers. The document also states that water quality tests were conducted, but the results could not be publicly disclosed.

Democratic Party Lead water
From left: Helena Wong, Andrew Wan, Ng Kim-sing, Ng Ka-ki. Photo: Handout.

Ng Kim-sing, the Kwai Tsing District Councillor from the Democratic Party, said he raised the issue multiple times during District Council meetings and that the government “learnt nothing” from previous scandals.

“I challenge any government official… if they dare to say the water is okay, I will bring them water from these flats every day and see if they can keep it up,” Ng said.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.