My Take

It's official, lead has no health benefit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 October, 2015, 1:40am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 October, 2015, 1:40am

Our lawmakers are not known for their intellect and intelligence. But if there is a prize for being the dimmest, Ng Leung-sing who represents the finance sector may easily win uncontested just like his functional constituency seat.

It's probably safe to assume that even children know lead is not good for people's health. Even if you didn't know before, the lead-in-water scandal in our public housing estates would have enlightened you to the fact. But Ng thought otherwise. In the Legislative Council this week, the pro-government lawmaker asked if there was a cause and effect between Hong Kong's rising longevity and the presence of lead in our drinking water.

"Is there evidence suggesting that consuming water with an appropriate level of lead can strengthen one's health and extend life?" he asked.

Well, as philosophers like to say, correlation is not causation. Just because people live longer and longer and that lead is found in their drinking water does not mean lead increases longevity.

In 1971, Hong Kong men lived an average of 67.8 years and women 75.3 years. Last year, the respective figures for men and women were 81.2 and 86.9 years. Since 1971 was also the year McDonald's started in Hong Kong and it has been steadily expanding over the decades, by the same logic, Big Mac and Happy Meals are making us live longer.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, to whom Ng directed his question, could not suppress a giggle and had to refer the question to health chief Dr Ko Wing-man. "Consuming lead does not have any health benefit," Dr Ko said with a straight face.

So far, three months after the scandal broke, government tests have unearthed excessive lead in the water supply of 11 public housing estates, one private residential development, three primary schools and two kindergartens.

At least 139 people, mostly children under six, have blood lead levels exceeding the WHO's safety standard.

Now, think about it, Mr Ng. If what you speculated about lead were true, it would mean Hong Kong people had all been drinking lead over decades, not just isolated public housing residents, to achieve growing life expectancy. We know Ng was just trying to help the government. But looking even dumber than government officials is probably not the way to go.