AN Urban Services Department (USD) official has hit out at suggestions by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) that polluted water in restaurants could splash on food and possibly transmit disease. Environment officials raised the issue two years ago when it became known that restaurant fish tanks were being supplied with water from typhoon shelters. Water in a restaurant fish tank was identified this week as being contaminated with cholera, which has struck eight people in the past two weeks. But the USD's deputy director of environmental hygiene, Robert Murby, disputed that splashed water could spread the disease. ''I don't think the EPD regularly inspects restaurants to see whether water is splashed around. We do. We have never taken this view and I still don't,'' he said. He also took issue with suggestions the USD should have acted earlier to stop restaurant fish tanks from being filled with dirty water. ''The reason it has not been done before is that there has never, ever been a linkage made between a case of disease and water in fish tanks,'' he said. It was only when cholera showed up in samples taken from the Ko Po Kok restaurant in Aberdeen, where a victim had dined, that the possibility became apparent, he said. ''Scientific study and the view of the Department of Health and ourselves in the past did not support their [the EPD's] view. Now that we have some indication of the linkage, we are being responsible and responding.'' Mr Murby also said the Department of Health had told his department the cholera bacteria could not exist in seawater, although Hong Kong University microbiologist Dr Yuen Kwok-yung and the acting Assistant Director of Environmental Protection, Paul Holmes, said it could. Mr Holmes said on Monday that the cholera bacteria could live in the water and in the guts of fish, but not the flesh. Dr Yuen said the bacteria could spread from infected people to sewage which ended up in the harbour and contaminated the water and fish.