HK estate to replace water pipes due to high lead levels

Some residents of Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City have resorted to collecting water from collection points after test samples revealed that the lead amount in the water supply exceeded the World Health Organisation guideline. The problem is believed
Some residents of Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City have resorted to collecting water from collection points after test samples revealed that the lead amount in the water supply exceeded the World Health Organisation guideline. The problem is believed to have come from sub-standard material that could have been used as soldering materials at the pipe joints.PHOTO: SCMP/NORA TAM

HONG KONG • Water pipes of thousands of flats in Hong Kong will have to be replaced after initial tests revealed excessive levels of lead in the water of a two-year-old public housing estate in Kowloon.

The Secretary for Housing, Mr Anthony Cheung, said the move was the best solution to ensure safe water, even though it would be a time-consuming one, according to Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). "If some material not in line with our contract terms was used in some pipe connections, we worry the material was also used in other pipes," he told RTHK.

"So, pipe replacement is inevitable. But this will involve thousands of households so we will need a more complete proposal. We hope we can have a plan with the contractor this week,¡" he said.

It is believed that some sub-standard material could have been used as soldering materials for the pipe joints at Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City, which released lead into the water supply. The problem was revealed by the Democratic Party last Sunday.

Director of Housing Stanley Ying said three of the 36 water samples taken in the latest batch of tests were found to have a lead amount which exceeded the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.

The WHO guideline states that the lead value in drinking water should not go above 10 micrograms a litre.

However, lead levels in three samples taken from three different flats were 10.8mcg, 11.6mcg and 35.1mcg a litre.

The Kai Ching Estate has about 5,200 households in six blocks.

A total of seven water samples taken from households at four different blocks so far have been found to exceed the WHO guideline. Lead poisoning can cause multi-organ failure and damage to the nervous system.

Mr Enoch Lam, director of Water Supplies, said his department would consider prosecuting the plumber, Mr Lam Tak Sum, who is responsible for the projects, as soldering materials containing lead were found at pipe joints in two unused flats - which is a violation of the contract.

The plumber said the pipes connecting water tanks to households included pre-cast units imported from China and he should not be held responsible for material made outside Hong Kong's borders.

"My responsibilities lie only within Hong Kong's borders. I cannot sign for things that happen outside Hong Kong and I can't be held responsible for (the pre-made units)," said the licensed plumber, who met officials from various departments, including Water Supplies, yesterday.

Following initial tests results, residents have been collecting water at temporary collection points. Boxes of bottled water have also been distributed to residents, the Post reported.

A resident at Kai Ching said on a radio talk show yesterday that tap water from her kitchen had smelt for some time.

Another resident, Ms Yin Li Chang, who has been collecting water over the past few days, said: "It's a nuisance... I have to go downstairs to fetch water every day."

Calls are mounting for the government to check tap water at all estates, as the authorities confirmed that the problem was not limited to Kai Ching Estate.

According to the Post, the same plumber had installed water pipes at four other public estates in Tuen Mun, Sham Shui Po, Sha Tin and Kwai Chung.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'HK estate to replace water pipes due to high lead levels'. Print Edition | Subscribe