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Hong Kong's tainted water scare

Hong Kong-based expats worry about blood lead levels, says doctor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 August, 2015, 5:38am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 August, 2015, 9:01am

A family doctor who has 15 years of experience treating lead poisoning cases says he's seen an increasing number of people who are worried about the lead levels in their bodies following the tainted water scare in several public housing estates.

Dr David Henderson, who runs a private clinic in Gold Coast, Tuen Mun, said many were expatriates living in private housing who wanted to know whether they should take a blood test to check for lead. The test costs around HK$400.

"I would first check their history and clinical symptoms," he said. "If I see a good reason, I would advise a test."

Briton Henderson, who was a military doctor for 25 years before practising in the city, said patients also asked whether they should test their household tap water for lead. He says "there is no harm in doing so".

Henderson said he had treated two-year-old twins in Hong Kong who were found to have excessive lead in their blood. But he thought the case might be related to rusty pipes in old European homes where the mother had been living.

He said he had also seen a one-year-old who had excessive levels of lead and who developed skin rashes. The infant's mother was a painter and spent years inhaling substandard paint in a closed flat in Europe. She had tested positive for excessive lead in her blood.

Back in Britain, he had seen patients who had high levels of lead on their scalps after dyeing their hair.

Henderson said symptoms of lead poisoning included fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, irritability, headaches and aggressive behaviour, especially in children.

But he said there was no way to test for total lead content in an individual's bones and tissue for those who had ingested it over a long period.

One test method, which is not universally accepted, is by checking urine after a process of chelation. Under this procedure, a patient is given tablets containing a chelation agent, which dislodges lead from tissue. Urine is then collected to test for lead levels inside the body.

If the lead level is not high, ingesting nutrients can help minimise lead in the body.

Henderson suggested that patients affected by lead can eat garlic, kiwi fruit, apples, oranges, egg white, broccoli, bok choy, onion, cow's milk, beans and seaweed and drink green tea.

Medical Association vice-president and private doctor Alvin Chan Yee-shing said he had not seen a rush for blood tests among his patients, but he would give them information about lead contamination if this was thought to be necessary.