LCQ9: Follow-up actions on incidents of excess lead found in drinking water
Last year, the Housing Department and the Water Supplies Department (WSD) conducted water sampling tests for the public rental housing (PRH) developments completed in or after 2015, and found that the samples of drinking water taken from 11 PRH developments (affected PRH developments) had a lead content exceeding the provisional guideline value set out in the World Health Organization's "Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality" (excess lead in water). To minimise the inconvenience to the affected tenants in gaining access to safe drinking water, the authorities took a series of measures, including the installation of water filters by the contractors concerned for the tenants free of charge. In order to fully rectify the problem of excess lead in water, the contractors concerned are replacing the water pipes in the common areas and those inside tenants' flats of the affected PRH developments. On the other hand, the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Commission) has recommended the Government to arrange testing of the drinking water of all PRH estates again using an appropriate sampling protocol (including the testing of stagnant water samples). In response to this recommendation, the Development Bureau set up an international expert panel on drinking water safety (the expert panel) in June this year to provide advice on, inter alia, the establishment of a water sampling protocol suitable for Hong Kong. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of (i) the latest progress of the works to replace the water pipes in the common areas, and (ii) the expected works completion date, in respect of each affected PRH development;
(2) of (i) the timetable for works commencement on replacement of water pipes inside tenants' flats, and (ii) the expected works completion date, in respect of each affected PRH development;
(3) whether it knows the latest date on which the contractor concerned cleaned and replaced the filter cartridges for tenants in each affected PRH development;
(4) whether it knows the details and the latest progress of the work of the expert panel;
(5) of the time that it has planned to conduct testing of the drinking water of all PRH estates again, including conducting sampling tests on stagnant water, in accordance with the Commission's recommendation; and
(6) as the Task Force on Investigation of Excessive Lead Content in Drinking Water led by WSD has found out that the brands and models of some valves and taps dismantled from the three water supply chains in Kai Ching Estate and Kwai Luen Estate Phase 2 did not tally with the information submitted to the Water Authority before works commencement, of the follow-up actions taken by the authorities, and whether they will institute prosecutions against the contractors concerned; if they will not, of the reasons for that?
After consulting the Development Bureau (DEVB), my reply to Dr Hon Helena Wong's question is as follows:
(1) The contractors have started replacing the non-compliant water pipes in the common areas of the 11 affected public rental housing (PRH) estates (Note 1) since March 2016, and progress so far is generally satisfactory. On the whole, the contractors have completed more than half of the works in the common areas. As reported to the Legislative Council previously, the time required for replacing the non-compliant water pipes in the common areas in each estate varies, depending on the number and design of the blocks involved. The actual time required for the works would be subject to weather conditions, allocation of manpower and other resources, etc. The contractors would also need to make arrangements for work from the works perspective of each estate. The Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) has posted notices in the lobbies of the affected estates to inform tenants of the estimated time required for replacement of water pipes in the common areas of each block, and has updated tenants on the progress of works through the Estate Management Advisory Committees.
(2) As the furnishings and pipe routings inside tenants' flats vary from one to another, we consider that there are merits in conducting a trial for works inside flats to test contractors' method and the arrangements on a small scale first. As works in the common areas of Kwai Yuet House at Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Phase 1 had been substantially completed, a trial for works inside flats started there on October 17, 2016. In light of the experience from the trial, the contractors will work out a more detailed work plan and timetable for works inside flats for the remaining affected PRH developments. HA will, in consultation with the contractors, inform the tenants of the details.
(3) The contractors have been replacing or cleaning filter cartridges for households regularly in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions for the brand (Note 2). For filters installed in Wing Cheong Estate and Tung Wui Estate, the contractor cleans the filter cartridges about once every three months, and replaces the filter cartridges once every 12 months. Since the installation of filters, the contractor has cleaned the filter cartridges for these households three times already, and it has started replacing the filter cartridges for these households since mid-September 2016. As for the remaining nine affected PRH developments, the contractors replace the filter cartridges for the households about once every six months. Since filters were installed in the affected PRH developments at different times, the timing for replacement of the filter cartridges varies from one estate to another. The latest round of filter cartridge replacement has started since mid-August 2016.
(4) The International Expert Panel on Drinking Water Safety (IEP) established by DEVB has convened three meetings so far for in-depth discussions on various issues related to drinking water safety in connection with excess lead found in drinking water, including the feasible options for improving the drinking water safety regime in Hong Kong, establishment of Hong Kong drinking water quality standards, and development of a comprehensive drinking water quality monitoring programme and the associated sampling protocol and follow-up plan if excess lead content is found in water samples. These measures aim to ensure the quality of drinking water and to guard against excess lead in drinking water in buildings. Besides, the IEP has provided valuable advice on the enhancement of the Water Safety Plan for the Water Supplies Department (WSD) and development of the templates for Water Safety Plan for buildings, etc.
The DEVB, the WSD, the IEP and the relevant expert consultants continue to deliberate on the aforesaid issues. The WSD aims to complete the studies on the establishment of drinking water standards, the sampling protocol and the Water Safety Plan and put forward a proposal by the end of March 2017.
(5) As regards the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water's recommendation that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again, WSD has engaged an expert consultant, the Water Research Centre, from the United Kingdom (UK) to review the drinking water standards and water sampling protocols of the World Health Organization, the European Union, Australia, Singapore, the UK, Canada, the United States and other developed countries. The expert consultant will also advise on the subject based on the situation in Hong Kong.
The DEVB, the WSD, the IEP and the UK expert consultant continue to deliberate on the relevant issues, including the considerations taken by various countries in establishing a guideline value of lead content in drinking water, the purposes and limitations of their sampling protocols, and their applicability in Hong Kong's situation. Whether these protocols can be applied in the investigation of lead contamination in the inside service of PRH estates in Hong Kong will also be covered.
The WSD aims to complete the studies on development of the relevant sampling protocol and put forward a proposal by the end of March 2017.
(6) In accordance with Waterworks Ordinance, all fire services and inside services shall be constructed and installed by a licensed plumber. The licensed plumber shall construct and install the pipes and fittings of fire services and inside services according to the ones reported to and approved by the Water Authority. The valves and taps installed by the concerned licensed plumber in Kai Ching Estate and Kwai Luen Estate Phase 2 were different from those reported to and approved by the Water Authority before commencement of works. Subsequently, relevant parties had reported to the WSD the fittings actually installed and they were checked to be fittings generally accepted by the WSD. As the concerned licensed plumber has contravened the Waterworks Ordinance by installing fittings different from those reported and using soldering material with excess lead content in connecting pipes, his plumber licence has been cancelled by the Licensing Authority.
Note 1: The 11 affected PRH estates are Kai Ching Estate, Kwai Luen Estate Phase 2, Wing Cheong Estate, Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate Phase 1, Shek Kip Mei Estate Phase 2, Tung Wui Estate, Hung Hom Estate Phase 2, Yan On Estate, Choi Fook Estate, Un Chau Estate Phase 2 and 4, and Ching Ho Estate Phase 1.
Note 2: For the brand of filters installed in Wing Cheong Estate and Tung Wui Estate by Paul Y. General Contractors Limited, the filter cartridges need to be cleaned about once every three months, and replaced once every 12 months. For the brands of filters installed by the remaining three contractors (i.e. Yau Lee Construction Company Limited, China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong) Limited and Shui On Building Contractors Limited) in the affected PRH developments under their purview, the filter cartridges need to be replaced about once every six months.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Issued at HKT 12:52
Issued at HKT 12:52