Hong Kong's tainted water scare

Blood tests for residents in Hong Kong tainted water scare 'normal'

Scores of people, anxious about the tainted water supply on their estate, queue at hospital, while the first nine are given the all-clear

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 July, 2015, 4:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:22pm

Scores of people affected by a tainted water scare rushed to hospital for blood tests yesterday - despite the fact results for the first nine people tested showed "normal" levels of lead.

About 100 residents of Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City, where the level of lead in drinking water was found to exceed the World Health Organisation standard of 10 micrograms per litre, queued for the free tests. A total of 800 people from housing estates at the centre of concerns have signed up for tests.

The fortnight-old row has become a political hot potato amid fears more homes are affected.

The nine people whose tests results were released yesterday - seven adults and two children - lived in homes from which the first samples of tainted water were taken.

But despite their negative results, other Kai Ching residents headed to United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong for testing.

"I am very worried that the contaminated water would affect my son, especially his brain development," said one man as he queued for a shuttle bus with his five-year-old child.

United Christian will offer more government-funded tests today. Next weekend, residents of another estate affected, Kwai Luen in Kwai Chung, will begin undergoing tests at Princess Margaret Hospital near their homes.

Health minister Dr Ko Wing-man yesterday said he expected some of the 800 to have excessive levels of lead in their blood. He made the remark as he announced the safety threshold health chiefs would use for lead concentration in blood.

Under the guideline, the safe level for adults would be less than 10mcg per 100 millilitres. For children and pregnant women, it would be 5mcg.

A three-level care plan would be introduced, depending on the extent to which a patient was at risk of lead poisoning.

For adults, levels of between 10mcg and 50mcg indicate "potential health risk" and require health surveillance, while those over 50mcg are in risk of poisoning and need treatment.

The adults whose results were released had levels of 2.33 to 8.76mcg. For children, the levels were from 2.72 to 4.13mcg.

Poisons expert Dr Raymond Wong Siu-ming, of Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, said past studies indicated about 2 to 3 per cent of the population would have lead at levels exceeding the new standard.

"Although the amount of lead inside a body should be as low as possible, there are many ways for a person to absorb the metal in daily life," Ko said.

Political parties have rushed to conduct tests at public and private estates since a Democratic Party lawmaker first drew attention to the situation at Kai Ching.

A sample from The Austin, a plush private development in Tsim Sha Tsui, showed lead levels at 41mcg per litre of water, according to Lam Yi-lai of the Hong Kong Awakening Association.

Developers New World and Wheelock said their own water tests had been carried out and results would be released next week. They dismissed the possibility lead could be found in binding joints in pipes - one of the possible explanations for the excessive lead at the public estates.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said it had found lead at levels of between 11 and 110mcg per litre at Sheung Ching House, another building at Kai Ching.

But housing minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung cautioned against reading too much into results produced by individuals. He said only professionals could handle tests up to the standard used overseas.

He said results on samples from 10 public housing estates should be ready within the next week. Authorities would then consider whether to expand the scope of inspections.



Estates  where tested water samples were found to be above the WHO recommended level

  • Kai Ching Estate, Kowloon City (12,300 residents/5,200 flats)
  • Kwai Luen Estate, Kwai Ching (7,500 residents/2,900 flats)
  • Shui Chuen O Estate, Sha Tin (2,000 residents)
  • Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate, Ngau Tau Kok (10,200 residents/4,200 flats)
  • The Austin, Tsim Sha Tsui (About 570 flats)

Places where tested samples were found to have no excessive lead

Lung Yat Estate, Tuen Mun; Cheung Sha Wan Estate; Kowloon City government offices and a Chinese University student dormitory. All had work done by Lam Tak-sum, the plumber embroiled in the controversy.

The blood tests

  • So far 888 people from Kai Ching Estate and Kwai Luen Estate have signed up to have their blood tested for excessive lead levels.
  • Of those, 100 people have so far been tested.
  • Nine tests results have been returned. All had normal levels of lead content in their blood.
  • United Christian Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital have been earmarked as blood testing centres.
  • The United Christian Hospital has called in an extra 30 staff to do the tests.

Who qualifies for the government’s free blood test?

Only residents from Kai Ching Estate and Kwai Luen Estates who are either: aged under six years; are pregnant  or are lactating mothers. These are the most easily affected segments of society.