Lead (Pb) was a common plumbing material, 30 years ago it was used for plumbing piping, after lead piping was banned, it was used in the solder needed to join copper pipework until it was also banned from solder. Lead was also commonly used as flashing for roof construction and constituent in paint.
For Hong Kong buildings opened before 1995, the standard for water piping was GI (Galvanised Iron) piping with mechanical screw type GI fittings. GI piping comprises a normal steel tube dipped in Zinc to provide a corrosion resistant coating. However, overtime the Zinc coating inside the pipe deteriorates, exposing the underlying steel pipework giving rise to corrosion and poor water quality.
RTHK has been reporting the discovery of LEAD in the water service in the new Kai Ching estate, this has sparked a city wide alert and residents in other housing estates are petitioning government to test their water supplies. In the news HA neatly passed the ownership to the Contractor, but obviously their quality management is under scrutiny.
In this Housing Authority (HA) estate the bathrooms were prefabricated, including the plumbing, in China, and the completed pre-fab units shipped and installed within the building and connected to the core plumbing system installed by the local plumbing contractor.
RTHK reported (link) that water in several residences contained up to 2.3 times the safe amount of Lead recommended by the World Health Organisation (10 µg/l). The Government struggling to handle the case said that all the plumbing systems may be replaced.
Also CHP are investigating a case of Legionnaires Disease (#Legionella) from the same Kai Ching estate (link) with legionella levels of 0.3-300 cfu/ml reported.
Update: SCMP (http://www.scmp.com) it covered the story too (link) unlinkable, the content in case you can’t access it:
First it was lead, now legionella bacteria found in Kowloon City estate’s water supply
Bacteria that can cause legionnaires’ disease found in Kowloon City estate
The water scare at a Kowloon City public housing estate deepened yesterday after officials said apart from the excessive lead discovered in tap water, legionella bacteria were also traced at several locations in one of the six blocks.
But a health official said it was premature to conclude that the two incidents were connected, and the Housing Department would be disinfecting all blocks in Kai Ching Estate to put residents’ minds at ease. The latest development emerged as the government announced it would set up a task force to investigate why the poisonous metal was found in tap water. Its source remains unknown.
A plumber at the centre of the tainted water scare, Lam Tak-sum, yesterday also said he could not be held fully responsible for what had happened, as he was not in charge of the materials pre-fabricated outside Hong Kong. It was revealed at a government press conference yesterday that a man, 72, was admitted to Prince of Wales Hospital in late May with respiratory problems. He was later diagnosed with what was thought to be legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria were found in his kitchen and bathroom in Mun Ching House. “We immediately arranged to have the pipes replaced, and normally the problem would have been solved,” said Dr Regina Ching Cheuk-tuen from the Centre for Health Protection. “But samples taken later from his flat still contain legionella. We also found the bacteria in another unit as well as another water supply point on the first floor.” Ching said residents in Mun Ching House should use boiled water for showering and brushing their teeth and avoid using shower heads that generate aerosols to help prevent the spread of the bacteria. In severe cases, the disease can cause respiratory failure or even death. Residents in the block criticised the government for failing to ensure their safety since they moved in two years ago. “We used to feel safe living here, but now it’s becoming really chaotic,” a woman said.
Meanwhile, the government is setting up a task force comprising officials from several departments to get to the bottom of the lead scare and put forward recommendations to prevent similar incidents from happening again. Director of Water Supplies Enoch Lam Tin-sing said his colleagues met with the plumber responsible for the Kai Ching Estate project yesterday, and records showed that he did all the water pipe work for the estate – contrary to Lam Tak-sum’s comment to the Oriental Daily newspaper that he was only responsible for the pipes connecting the water mains to the blocks’ water tanks. “The government should make clear who is responsible for what,” Lam said from a wheelchair. “My responsibilities only lie within Hong Kong’s borders. I can’t sign for things that happen outside Hong Kong and I can’t be held responsible for the [pre-made units].”
However, Director of Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong said only a “small amount” of pre-fabricated pipes were installed in kitchens and bathrooms in the estate. He did not give any numbers. He would only say that the two unused flats, where lead was found in soldering materials at pipe joints, did not have preinstalled piping. But in a statement issued last night, the government said the bathrooms in all six blocks of Kai Ching Estate were basically pre-fabricated ones, with the pipes of about half of them being fitted on the mainland.
It said the kitchens of only two blocks were pre-fabricated ones, with the pipes of about half of them fitted on the mainland. The two kitchens from where lead in soldering materials was found earlier were not pre-fabricated ones.
Also, of the seven water samples found earlier to have lead content exceeding the World Health Organization standard, only one was taken from the pipe of a pre-fabricated kitchen fitted on the mainland, the government said in the statement. He also said that the department required contractors to provide certification to prove that the materials used were up to standard. The department was now discussing the replacement of pipes at Kai Ching Estate with the contractor, Ying added. Authorities will also take water samples from a Chinese University student dormitory and the Kowloon City Government Offices to check for lead, because the two projects were also handled by Lam. China State Construction International, the main construction contractor of the Kai Ching Estate, declined to comment on its role in the tainted fresh water supplies.
Additional reporting by Shirley Zhao
(published by SCMP)
Update: 14 July 2015
RTHK has reported that the Government said on Tuesday 14 July 2015 that lead content has been found in water samples taken from five units at from the Kwai Luen Estate at Kwai Chung. (link).
Update: 15 July 2015
The incident has now been promoted to scandal in the local media, the Hong Kong Standard reports that Transport and Housing chief issued apology for mis-stating the number of pre-fab units installed in the Kai Ching Estate (link) it seems now that most of the bathrooms were pre-fabricated.
Also in the Hong Kong Standard (link) reports today (15-7-2015) that:
Lead contamination has been detected in the water supply at two more public housing estates – Kai Luen Estate in Kwai Shing Circuit and Shui Chuen O Estate in Sha Tin. Test samples showed lead levels exceeding WHO recommendations.
We have two issues to consider (1) The quality of materials used in the pre-fab units manufactured in China, and the inter-connection to the plumbing system installed by the local plumber, and (2) For Lead contamination in other HA projects, without pre-cast fabrication, past renovation works could be the culprit.
Updated: 16 July 2015
SCMP reported on the frontpage that the Government vows to carry out Lead (Pb) testing of the water in ten (10) more public housing estates.
Updated: 17 July 2015
RTHK ( link ) reported that the Government testing of the piping joint at Kai Ching Housing Estate Hong Kong had 50% Lead (Pb) content (by mass or volume not reported) in the solder.
Kai Ching soldering material has 50% lead
Two samples of solder used in water pipes at a public housing estate in Kowloon City have been found to contain 50 percent lead. That was revealed by the Housing Director Stanley Ying following a Housing Authority’s meeting to discuss the water contamination scare. The Housing Secretary, Anthony Cheung, said the government will hold the chief contractor of Kai Ching estate accountable for the latest discovery. Professor Cheung has also announced the set-up of a 10-member committee to thoroughly review the work of the authority.
updated: 17 July 2015
The Hong Kong Standard reported on 17 July 2015 that the plumbing contractor at the centre of the Lead (Pb) scandal also recently completed a hospital project in Hong Kong (link).
However, in the report the plumber stated he was not responsible for the material, indeed this is common practice for large projects, the Main Contractor will purchase all materials (thereby avoiding the admin, handling, and profit earned by the sub-contractors) and then engaging sub-contractor(s) to provide the labour only.
Same material likely used in hospital
Friday, July 17, 2015
The plumber singled out by officials in connection with the lead-contaminated water at two estates says the same materials have been used elsewhere including St Paul’s Hospital. Lam Tak-sum, the self-claimed employee of Ho Biu Kee Construction Engineering responsible for plumbing works at Kai Ching and Kwai Luen estates, said he is “90 percent sure” the same materials have been used on other projects. St Paul’s Hospital confirmed Ho Biu Kee was responsible for installing pipes in Block B, which is under construction. Pipes and soldering samples will be collected for checks, a spokesman said, and the builder will test water samples for lead. Hospital services are not affected.
Hong Kong Plumbing and Sanitary Ware Trade Association head Wong Kwok-keung said they have been unable to reach Ho Biu Kee bosses. According to the company registry, Ho Man-piu is the biggest shareholder of the firm. His registered address is in Jiangmen city, Guangdong.
As a licensed plumber, Lam said his primary responsibility is to guide the company through procedures set by the government on water works. He filled in all the forms and provided certificates to the authorities. Water samples from the estates were tested and he was given certificates by the authorities to prove work was in accordance with regulations. “I have done what I should. It [the presence of lead in pipe soldering] indicated there may be loopholes in the existing procedures, or that there is a problem with the supplier,” he said. “I am not responsible for the purchase of materials.” He felt wronged to be named by government officials. “The court has yet to rule I am guilty, but they have already made the ruling,” he said. Ho Biu Kee management refused to assist him, he said.
updated: 21 July 2015
The Government has reported excessive lead (Pb) found in one sample from the seven additional estates undergoing testing, and that now Housing estates completed after 2011 will now be included in the testing plan, RTHK reports (link):
The government has expanded its water testing for lead contamination to cover all public housing estates built after 2011. Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung said it will involve a total of 26,000 units from 12 estates. Checks at some public estates earlier this month had shown excessive lead in some drinking water, leading to hundreds of people having blood tests over fears they have been poisoned.
Meanwhile, authorities have finished testing samples from seven estates completed in 2013 or afterwards. It found one of the 370 samples contained an excessive amount of lead. The sample comes from a unit from Wing Cheong Estate in Shum Shui Po.
Updated: 21 July 2015
In the Hong Kong Standard (below) the report provides more detail, the sample from Wing Cheong Estate in Shum Shui Po was a Housing Authority area, with 14 microgram/litre reported.
Interestingly, from the health perspective this scandal has revealed that Asia’s World City has limited a very capacity to conduct blood tests, only 300 per week, so thousands of worried residents may have to wait many weeks.
update: 22 July 2015
RTHK reports today (22 July 2015) that the Hong Kong government has released information about the Kai Ching estate residents, forty (40) people, including 27 children, have been identified with excessive levels of Lead (Pb) in their blood (link).
Forty residents of the Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City have been found to have excessive amounts of lead in their blood.
The Health Secretary, Ko Wing-man, said 27 of them are children, and they will be taken to child assessment centres to gauge the impact on their health. The rest of them are lactating mothers.
They were among scores of people tested after lead was found to have contaminated some of the estate’s water supplies. Dr Ko stressed the lead levels were not very high, but said the Hospital Authority will adopt a range of follow-up actions.
These include expanding blood tests to include children who were under the age of six when they moved into either Kai Ching Estate, Phase 2 of Kwai Chung’s Kwai Luen Estate, or Wing Cheong Estate in Sham Shui Po. Dr Ko said the Hospital Authority will also increase the number of blood taking sessions and will consider buying more blood testing equipment or sending samples to laboratories abroad.
Whether this was caused by water piping, the fittings, the solder, the pre-fab work in China, the faucets, the culprit, is still unclear. Perhap residents should offer (just offer) Kai Ching water to the Government officials, Erin Brockovich style.
Updated: 29 July 2015
Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate is the next Hong Kong housing project to be identified with Lead (Pb) solder [link]. Earlier RTHK reported that Lead (Pb) was stopped in 2005.
Lead found in water pipes of one more estate
Lead has been found in the soldering material binding joints in water pipes at Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate, officials said. This brings the total number of public housing estates involved in the tainted tap water scare to four.
Latest tests also show that 23 residents from Kai Ching Estate have higher-than-normal levels of blood in their blood. They include 17 children, four breastfeeding mothers, a pregnant woman and a teenager. That’s in addition to the 40 residents that were earlier found to have the same problem.
The issue of lead-contaminated water emerged in June, after the Democratic Party showed that tap water samples from Kai Ching Estate in Kai Tak contained amounts of lead that exceeded World Health Organisation standards.
Samples from Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung and Wing Cheong Estate in Sham Shui Po have also been tested and found to contain excessive levels of the heavy metal.
The government has continued investigating to see if more public estates are affected by the problem, and has arranged free blood tests for residents from the affected estates.
Updated: 3 August 2015
RTHK (link) the Lead (Pb) saga rumbles on, it now covers seven housing estates with excessive Lead (Pb) including:
- Kai Ching Estate, Kowloon City
- Kwai Luen Estate, Kwai Chung
- Wing Cheong Estate, Sham Shui Po
- Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate
- Tung Wui Estate, Wong Tai Sin
- Hung Hom Estate, Phase Two
- Shek Kip Mei Estate, Phase Two
Lead-tainted water found in three more [Hong Kong Housing] estates
The government has found that tap-water samples from three more public housing estates contain excessive levels of lead, taking the total number of affected estates to seven.
Twenty-five out of 183 tap water samples from Tung Wui Estate in Wong Tai Sin, Hung Hom Estate Phase Two, and Phase Two of Shek Kip Mei Estate contained excessive lead. The government also said the heavy metal was also found in some soldering material in the plumbing systems of the affected estates.
The Housing Secretary, Anthony Cheung, said contingency measures will be put in place to make sure residents have access to safe drinking water. He also said blood tests will also be conducted for high-risk individuals, such as children or pregnant women, who live in the affected estates.
Construction of the three estates was completed between 2011 and 2012. Cheung said the government is still awaiting results on tests for five more estates completed within the same period. He said the authorities will also collect water samples from all public estates built between 2005 and 2010, and hope to finish the testing process within two months.