A plumbing subcontractor admitted he never thought of ensuring all pipes were lead-free before the tainted drinking water scandal broke out in July at the public Kai Ching Estate where his firm carried out work. Ho Man-piu, managing director of Ho Biu Kee Construction Engineering, also told an inquiry into the lead-in-water scandal on Tuesday he was unaware that lead-free solder must be used, and that the responsibility of ensuring water was untainted fell to the plumber. When his assistant told him on July 6 that excessive lead had been detected in the drinking water, Ho recalled saying: “So what if it contains lead? What does it have to do with us plumbers?” Commission of inquiry counsel Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC asked Ho: “Have you heard of lead poisoning?” He replied that he had not. Ho said he only learned afterwards that there were specifications banning the use of lead-based solder, and became aware of differences between solder sticks and wires. READ MORE: Senior plumbing subcontractor employee admits to forging documents, Hong Kong lead-in-water commission hears The contractor also denied sourcing the cheaper lead solder sticks to cut costs. “I did not even have the basis of knowing which is cheaper,” he told the inquiry. He explained that, after the scandal broke out, he discovered that the use of solder sticks would ultimately cost more because they are more likely to cause wastage, and said using them would be “stupid”. Citing Ho Biu Kee’s projects – at Kai Ching and Kwai Luen public housing estates – Ho said the average cost of solder per flat was HK$91 and HK$74 respectively. This compared to lead-free solder wires at HK$64 per flat in Sai Chuen O estate. He denied knowledge of former staff ordering solder sticks for employees to work more efficiently, and said it was like “white terror” when he suddenly learned that lead had been detected in the drinking water at his projects. READ MORE: Hong Kong contractor admits relying too much on subcontractor to follow rules at estates tainted by lead in water Ho admitted the company had overlooked solder in the procurement process as construction site staff never mentioned specific types or brands when they submit requests for office staff to place orders. Established by Ho in 1981, Ho Biu Kee currently employs more than 1,000 workers and up to seven licensed plumbers. But only Lam Tak-sum was engaged as a licensed plumber because the others lacked experience and could not read English as required to fill out forms or liaise with the Water Services Department.