An independent investigative panel issued a damning report on Tuesday on last year’s lead-in-water scandal, blaming it on a “classic case of buck-passing” and urging the government to retest drinking water at all the city’s public housing estates. The commission of inquiry’s investigative report was released minus redacted paragraphs on three out of 377 pages to avoid “any prejudice” to related criminal investigations and possible prosecutions. The missing information concerns three plumbing subcontractor staff members who will be investigated by police following referral by the Department of Justice. Four senior government officials – housing chief Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, development minister Paul Chan Mo-po, Director of Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong and Director of Water Supplies Enoch Lam Tin-sing – apologised for what the inquiry described as their “collective failure” to prevent the scandal. ‘We use lead water to shower’: tainted-water nightmare not over for affected Hong Kong residents The government spent HK$100 million and months trying to fix the problem, including supplying bottled water to affected residents and arranging blood tests for their children. Eleven public housing estates were found to have drinking water with a lead level of more than 10 micrograms per litre – the maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation. But Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor did not apologise, insisting she had done her duty and saw no intentional breach of rules or abuse of power on the government’s part. “I have not found any evidence of a single individual government official committing a serious mistake that has led to the incident,” she said. Lam echoed the commission in dismissing “conspiracy theories” about a cover-up. However, admitting there were systemic failures in the government, Lam said she accepted the findings of the report and the administration would address the problems from four perspectives – contractual, legal, administrative and political responsibilities. But Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan, who first revealed the problem at Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City last July, demanded a further account from Lam. She also called for the immediate resignation of the water supplies chief. Hong Kong must adopt plain tobacco packaging, say health advocates The commission, led by a High Court judge, was satisfied that leaded solder in the pipes had directly caused the contamination, even though, on paper, the Housing Authority, Water Supplies Department, their contractors and licensed plumbers were all supposed to use lead-free solder in fresh water pipes. “In practice, however, this multi-barrier checking system turned out to be no more than a paper system in which every party transferred the duty of supervision to the other, resulting in a classic case of buck-passing,” the report concluded. “Trust was misplaced and in the end it was residents who suffered the most.” The commission criticised the Water Supplies Department’s method of testing, saying it should have used first-draw water samples to fully assess lead contamination, instead of collecting samples after flushing the water for two minutes.