Hong Kong's tainted water scare

Clean payout: Hong Kong contractors pledge HK$20 million for housing estate water bills over lead contamination

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2015, 3:20am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2015, 5:34am

Four contractors will spend HK$20 million to help 29,000 households in public housing estates pay their water bill for about a year, after water samples collected in their estates were found to be contaminated with lead.

The contractors would pay up to HK$660 in water charges for each household affected by the contamination.

Water charges are to be paid quarterly and it was understood that a three-person family usually spent about HK$100 to HK$200 every three months.

Announcing the payout at the Legislative Council, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said: "The four contractors wish to add that this additional initiative is only meant to show their goodwill and care for the households, and was unrelated to the issue of responsibility [for the contamination]."

READ MORE: Housing Authority contract managers did not regularly inspect Hong Kong public housing projects in water safety scare, inquiry hears

Lam also said she knew some affected residents wanted the government to waive their water charges or their rent, but she believed this was inappropriate.

Prior to this, the contractors also agreed to install water filters for the households.

Lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the bill payment plan was "a good start".

However, Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen said the contractors should set up a fund to compensate residents who suffered health problems from drinking contaminated water.

Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan, one of the first people to find out about the water contamination, said that for the affected residents it was much more urgent to re-install the estates' pipelines.

"Moreover, the building contracts said the materials used in building the estates must be up to certain standards," Wong said. "This is certainly not something that can be solved by HK$660," Wong said.

On hearing of the subsidy, Lee Oi-lan, a resident of Kai Ching Estate, one of the affected housing estates, said: "I can accept it. At least there's compensation. Even if it was HK$100, I would be fine."

Another Kai Ching Estate resident, Cho Wai-fung, said: "[The HK$660] is no use. In the long term, [the contractors] have to make sure they fix all the pipes."

Yesterday, the free newspaper AM730 reported that in July Lam asked Wong to name the laboratory the lawmaker commissioned to find out about the lead contamination and that Wong was worried that Lam wanted to "pressure" the laboratory to refrain from doing more tests for the Democrats.

Lam told the media yesterday that she remembered meeting Wong in July, but could not remember asking the lawmaker that question. Lam said the government had instead been helping the laboratories do tests such that the number that were capable of testing lead in water had increased from eight to now 10.

The government said it would finish testing water samples collected from about 780 kindergartens by early next month, while the water tests for public housing estates completed before 2005 would be done by the year's end.