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Government discusses temporary and long-term measures to tackle excessive lead content in drinking water

     An inter-departmental meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, today (July 14) discussed temporary and long-term measures to tackle excessive lead content in drinking water.

     A press conference was jointly held by senior representatives of the Transport and Housing Bureau, the Development Bureau, the Housing Department (HD), the Water Supplies Department (WSD), the Government Laboratory (GL) and the Department of Health this afternoon to give an update on the latest follow-up work.

     The Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, said in the press conference that it was likely that the level of lead in drinking water exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) standard was due to lead found in soldering materials of water pipes.

     To improve the existing temporary water supply arrangement, he said that the latest plan is to provide downpipes to each floor directly from the roof water tanks in Kai Ching Estate so that residents can get temporary water supply at the floor on which they live. It is hoped that the works can be completed in around three weeks' time.

     "To address residents' concerns, we will not rule out the possibility of replacing all pipes, but we will first replace those pipes with soldering materials found to contain lead in public areas outside the residential units," Professor Cheung said.

     "A briefing will be held for members of the Housing Authority on Thursday to give them an update on the latest situation. Also, as the Chairman of the Housing Authority, I will propose to set up a special committee under the Authority to conduct a comprehensive review of the construction projects of the Authority, covering inspection of the quality of materials used, including prefabricated parts, as well as supervision of works at different stages."

     The Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, said the WSD took water samples yesterday from four other public housing estates and two other facilities for which the plumber concerned had carried out pipe works. The tests were completed with the assistance of the Government Laboratory.

     Regarding the task force to be set up to investigate the cause of excessive lead content in drinking water at housing estates, Mr Chan said the scope of work will be adjusted in the wake of the test results of the water samples taken. The membership of the task force will be announced soon.

     As the lead content in some water samples from Kwai Luen Estate was found to have exceeded the WHO standard, the Director of Housing, Mr Stanley Ying, said the HD would take a series of actions, including providing tenants with bottled water, liaising with the WSD to provide water tanks at each block of the estate and holding a forum to brief tenants this evening. The HD would notify all those households where lead content of the water samples was found to have exceeded the WHO guideline value, and provide them with a phone number through which they could get health advice and request follow-up services. While the authorities have provided every tenant with a leaflet containing health information, the HD would also contact the main contractor of Kwai Luen Estate, Shui On Building Contractors Ltd, to discuss how to follow up on the incident.

     As for Kai Ching Estate, Mr Ying said that apart from the continued provision of bottled water, standpipes had been set up at the ground floor of every block at the estate to enable tenants to get water. The HD has been liaising with the main contractor to provide a water outlet at each floor by installing pipes from the rooftop tanks so that tenants would no longer need to go downstairs to collect water. This system is aimed to be completed in about three weeks' time.

     As a case of Legionnaire's disease was discovered at a unit at Mun Ching House, Kai Ching Estate, Mr Ying noted that, according to understanding of the Centre for Health Protection, actions needed to be taken if there was an infected case at a particular place, supported by environmental evidence. No sampling is required for the other five blocks since no case was found.

     Disinfection of the two water tanks and common area of the whole building block of Mun Ching House has taken place today. The HD, the WSD, the Department of Health and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department have been exploring effective measures to deal with areas concerned at Mun Ching House with the least interruption to the tenants. He said that the authorities would conduct disinfection of the water tanks of the other five blocks step by step as a precautionary measure and consider whether a more thorough cleaning action would be arranged for tenants of these five blocks. More details will be announced when available.
     Regarding precast fabrication, Mr Ying said bathrooms at all six blocks of Kai Ching Estate were prefabricated, about half of which were fitted with pipes before delivery. Kitchens of only two blocks were prefabricated and, amongst them, about half were fitted with pipes before delivery. The two vacant flats where lead in soldering materials was found earlier were not prefabricated, i.e. being made in Hong Kong in-situ. As for the seven flats found earlier with water samples exceeding the WHO guideline value for lead content, only one of them had a prefabricated kitchen with pipes fitted. Two of them had pre-fabricated bathrooms with no fitted pipes and four others had their kitchen not being prefabricated, i.e. made in Hong Kong. As for Kwai Luen Estate, it did not have any pre-fabricated bathrooms or kitchens.

     Reporting on the test results, the Director of Water Supplies, Mr Enoch Lam, said that the lead levels of the samples drawn from the student hall of Wu Yee Sun College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Kowloon City Government Offices, Lung Yat Estate in Tuen Mun and Cheung Sha Wan Estate all comply with the WHO standard.

     As for the test results of more than 40 water samples taken from Shui Chuen O Estate, the lead levels of the samples from Long Chuen House, Ching Chuen House and Yan Chuen House comply with the WHO standard. However, one sample taken from a vacated unit at Hei Cheun House was found with a lead level of more than 14 micrograms per litre, above the acceptable level set out in the WHO guidelines. The WSD will take more water samples from the block for testing to ascertain the situation of the building.

     In addition, more than 40 water samples were taken from Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Shing Circuit, among which five were found with lead levels of 10.4, 10.5, 16.8, 19.4 and 23.3 micrograms per litre, exceeding the WHO level.

     Mr Lam said that the WSD will set up temporary water supply points at Kwai Luen Estate, including two water tanks for each block and one water wagon. The department will also lay a temporary water pipe to the ground floor of each block to facilitate water collection by residents. He expects that the works can be completed in two or three days.

     The GL will render full support to the WSD, as well as other government bureaux and departments in the investigation of the incident of excessive lead content in drinking water, including examination of drinking water samples and water supply components for lead content. In assisting the WSD to conduct on-site investigation, the GL will use a portable rapid testing device to initially test whether a water supply component contains lead by employing a rapid and non-destructive detection technique, namely X-ray fluorescence spectrometry.

     The Head of the Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Dr Regina Ching, said that residents of the affected estates (Kai Ching Estate and Kwai Luen Estate) who belong to more easily affected groups, namely infants, young children under 6 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 5pm today, a total of 778 calls had been received and 458 persons have made appointments for blood tests.

     The DH has reiterated that, from a health perspective, long-term exposure to lead, when it has accumulated in large amounts in the body, may result in anaemia, increased blood pressure and brain and kidney damage. The WHO's Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality has set a provisional guideline value of not more than 10 micrograms per litre for lead, which does not represent significant risk to health in drinking over a lifetime. The elevated levels of lead content announced do not represent a significant risk to health unless the water is consumed over extended periods of time. Exposure to this level of lead in drinking water is also unlikely to cause acute toxicity.

     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.

     For residents of Mun Ching House of Kai Ching Estate where a case of Legionnaires' disease was found, the DH recommends that all residents of Mun Ching House, particularly those with weakened immunity, should adopt the following measures:

* Collect water from a tap but not from a shower to reduce aerosol generation. 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 Legionnaires' disease.

Ends/Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Issued at HKT 23:10


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