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Hong Kong's tainted water scare

Hong Kong public left to wait on safety of tap water

Officials may think it only takes data from tests to dispel lingering fears over quality, but perception is everything when it comes to confidence of society

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 3:40am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 3:40am

Nothing is more important to the government than the well-being of its people. Two years after 11 public housing estates were hit by the “lead-in-water” scandal, Hong Kong officials still owe the public an answer on whether our tap water is safe to drink. That affected residents are still fetching water from outdoor communal pipes today shows the health scare is far from over.

What you should know about Hong Kong’s new drinking water regulations

It is good that people’s worries have not been flushed away by the new government, but whether the new measures can provide sufficient safeguards and restore confidence remains to be seen. Among the highlights of the so-called citywide action plan is an annual test of 667 water samples, randomly drawn in accordance with the population in the New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Ideally, all households and businesses should be included, but such an exercise would inevitably sap manpower and resources. The sampling approach is therefore justified.

That said, the target still looks too modest for a population of 7.3 million. It also falls short of the call by a committee of inquiry to test the water supply at all public housing estates. As long as manpower and resources permit, there is no reason why the sample size should not be enlarged to enhance representativeness and accuracy.

Instead of collecting samples after running the tap for a while, a method seen by some as failing to reflect the potential health risk, the test is to collect water straight from the tap randomly during daytime, followed by further tests in cases where excessive metals are found. Officials denied the previous method was wrong, saying the change was just “moving with the times”. The new methodology was, nonetheless, seen by some as not going far enough.

Monitoring standards for drinking water to go beyond WHO levels

Officials may think it only takes empirical data to dispel any lingering fears over water quality, but perception is everything when it comes to public confidence. The departments responsible for housing and water supply came under fire for shirking accountability in the wake of a series of damning reports on the scandal. People won’t feel assured unless officials have truly learned the lesson and are seen as doing their best to restore confidence.