Ministers may lose their private toilets to beat bug
Unused water pipes and taps may be disconnected from the water supply at the new government headquarters in Admiralty to prevent the growth of legionella or other bacteria, lawmakers were told yesterday.
Leung Koon-kee, the director of architectural services, said the bacteria in the recent outbreak might have grown in seldom-used hot-water pipes where the water temperature dipped below a safety threshold.
Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, head of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, told a special Legislative Council panel meeting: 'In water cooler than 60 degrees Celsius, chlorine has little effect against the legionella bacteria.'
Leung told the meeting future outbreaks could be prevented by shutting off or removing such pipes in the new HK$5.5 billion complex.
Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria that causes legionnaires' disease, was found recently in water supplies at the complex, which opened in August. Health experts and building inspectors have been trying to learn how the contamination occurred.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said yesterday: 'I believe the health risk in the complex has been eliminated. We are investigating how the design and processes of the water supply could be improved, especially in the private toilets of bureau chiefs that are seldom used, so that the water storage in pipes can be reduced.'
Architectural services officials would discuss next month whether to inspect all new buildings for the legionella bacteria, Chow said.
Lawmakers at yesterday's meeting sought an explanation for the mass contamination, while officials and experts said the complex was safe to use.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan asked the government to disclose exactly where water samples had been taken and the detailed test results.
Other lawmakers said all regular water tests should look for legionella.
'Until now, a regular test for legionella bacteria has not been required for all buildings, in accordance with international standards, unless cases of infection are found,' Yuen said. He said the water supply at the complex had been sterilised and was safe.
'If you wanted me to live there and drink the water, I think that would not be a problem at all,' he said.
Yuen was on the team of experts that took 227 water samples from showers and taps there last week.
He said 226 of the samples proved satisfactory and only one tested positive for legionella bacteria, containing a 'very low' concentration of 0.128 per millilitre.