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Task force to investigate cause of excessive lead content in drinking water at Kai Ching Estate

     An inter-departmental meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, today (July 13) decided to set up a joint task force to investigate the cause of excessive lead content in drinking water at Kai Ching Estate and make recommendations for prevention of similar incidents from happening in the future.

     A press conference was jointly held by the Transport and Housing Bureau, the Development Bureau, the Housing Department, the Water Supplies Department and the Department of Health this afternoon to give an update on the latest follow-up work.

     Speaking at the press conference, the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, said the Government's top priority was to find out through various ways the source of lead so as to get to the bottom of the problem and rectify it. This will help to contain risks and assure the public that the water is safe for consumption.

     Professor Cheung said, "At the same time, we are providing temporary water supply, and are working for minimising inconvenience to the residents. The Housing Department has already been in touch with the main contractor to discuss arrangements on water pipes replacement.

     "For Kai Ching Estate, what we are doing now is to put the risks under control and safeguard the health of residents."

     As the concerned licensed plumber is also involved in four other public housing estates, namely Lung Yat Estate in Tuen Mun, Cheung Sha Wan Estate, Shui Chuen O Estate in Sha Tin and Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Shing Circuit, he said the Housing Department and the Water Supplies Department have today begun taking water sample systemically in these estates, aiming to have the test results available as quickly as possible. If there are water samples found exceeding the limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Government will of course take follow-up actions in a way similar to Kai Ching Estate.

     The Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, said the task force will be chaired by the Deputy Director of Water Supplies, with members comprising in-house experts from the Housing Department, the Water Supplies Department, the Department of Health, the Government Laboratory and academia/expert outside the Government. The task force will also follow up on a case of Legionnaires' disease found at Kai Ching Estate. The membership will be announced later.

     He said that temporary standpipes have been installed by today for all six blocks of Kai Ching Estate to facilitate collection of water by the residents.

     The Director of Housing, Mr Stanley Ying, said the authorities would continue to provide bottled water to tenants of Kai Ching Estate. With the assistance of the Water Supplies Department, standpipes are provided on the ground floor of every block in the estate to enable the tenants to get water nearby.

     Regarding the prefabricated parts, the bathrooms in all six blocks of Kai Ching Estate were basically prefabricated ones, with the pipes of about half of them being fitted on the Mainland. The kitchens of only two blocks were prefabricated ones, with the pipes of about half of them fitted on the Mainland. The two kitchens from where lead in soldering materials was found earlier were not prefabricated ones. Also, of the seven water samples found earlier to have lead content exceeding the WHO standard, only one was taken from the pipe of a prefabricated kitchen fitted on the Mainland.

     As a tenant of Mun Ching House in Kai Ching Estate was diagnosed as having contracted Legionnaires' disease, Mr Ying said disinfection of Mun Ching House was obviously necessary. As for actions for the other five blocks, he said disinfection might also be needed in order to help ease tenants' minds. Housing Department staff are liaising with other government departments to identify practical arrangements. Tenants will be informed once the operational details and arrangements are available.

     A weekend shuttle bus service will be arranged for residents of Kai Ching Estate to visit United Christian Hospital to take blood for testing.

     The Director of Water Supplies, Mr Enoch Lam, said that in accordance with the established procedures, staff from the Water Supplies Department met with the licenced plumber concerned today to seek information for investigation. The Water Supplies Department has also confirmed that there are two other works projects completed by the plumber in the same period, namely the student hall of Wu Yee Sun College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Kowloon City Government Offices. Water samples were taken from these buildings today. The Government Laboratory will assist in testing the water samples and soldering materials to see if there is any lead content. The Water Supplies Department will announce the results once available.

     The Head of the Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Dr Regina Ching, said that Kai Ching Estate who belong to more easily affected groups, namely infants, young children under six years of age, pregnant women and lactating mothers may call the hotline 2125 1122 from 9am to 9pm daily to make appointments for free blood tests. As of 5 pm today, a total of 625 calls had been received and 396 persons have made appointments for blood tests.

     In addition to the blood taking sessions at United Christian Hospital on July 18 (afternoon) and July 19 (whole day), the Hospital Authority will extend the service to July 25 (afternoon) and July 26 (whole day).

     In regard to health advice, the affected households are advised to run tap water for one to two minutes before drinking or cooking and to avoid using hot water from pipes directly for drinking or cooking. It is safe to use tap water for general cleaning, such as hand washing and cleaning of utensils.

     Moreover, Dr Ching provided an update on the epidemiological investigation into a case of Legionnaires' disease (LD) reported on May 28 affecting a man aged 72 who lives in Mun Ching House, Kai Ching Estate. The patient, with underlying illnesses, developed symptoms on May 25 and was admitted to Prince of Wales Hospital (PWH) on May 28. His urine sample tested positive for Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 antigen upon testing by PWH. The patient was discharged on June 12.

     As part of the epidemiological investigation, water samples have been taken from Mun Ching House, Kai Ching Estate for testing. Upon testing by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch, water samples taken from water outlets of the patient's residence had been tested positive for Legionella pneumophila while water sample taken from the roof water tank of Mun Ching House was negative. In addition, preliminary test results today revealed that water samples taken from water pipes supplying the patient's flat as well as the same floor, and from the water pipe on the first floor of the building had also been tested positive for Legionella pneumophila.

     As the respiratory specimen from the patient tested negative for Legionella, the source of infection is hence yet to be ascertained at this juncture.

     As a precautionary measure, the HD will conduct disinfection of the water supply facilities of all the six blocks of Kai Ching Estate. The CHP also recommends all residents, particularly for persons with weakened immunity of Mun Ching House, should adopt the following measures:

* Collect water from a tap but not from a shower. Make sure the water used for bathing, brushing teeth or rinsing the mouth has been boiled and then let it cool down before use;
* Avoid using mist-generating devices at home. These include humidifiers and other mist/aerosol-generating devices. Showers may also generate small aerosols;
* Observe personal hygiene; and
* Consult a doctor promptly after developing fever, dry cough, tiredness or shortness of breath, as these are symptoms of LD.

Ends/Monday, July 13, 2015
Issued at HKT 21:59


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