Sure enough, the government responded to reports of lead contamination in the water supply of a newly built public housing estate with a media relations push.
Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung shifted the blame to the sub-contractor who installed the pipes.
There was no mention of China State Construction Group, the main supplier.
Lam Tak-sum must be feeling the heat just days after giving a front-page newspaper interview in which he said his job was only to install the last-mile water connection to the flats.
The issue has taken the proportions of a full-blown health scare after an elderly resident was diagnosed with legionellosis, a deadly water-borne disease.
Things should not have turned out this way for Kai Ching Estate, a three-year old development in the former Kai Tak airport.
When the first buildings in the complex were completed in 2012, they were hailed as Hong Kong’s first green residential project. Then President Hu Jintao praised its concept and design, a template for healthy, environmentally sound housing developments of the future.
But that ideal notion came crashing when Democratic Party lawmaker Helen Wong flagged excessive lead in Kai Ching’s water supply after her own investigation.
Chillingly, we know now that its residents were being poisoned from the time they moved in and no one knows how much longer they will stay at risk.
But when the government had an opportunity to address the problem and nip it in the bud, officials appear to be covering it up.
The question, obviously, is for whose sake?
China State Construction Group, Lam and all others involved in building Kai Ching’s water supply system should be investigated.
The government should look into claims China State Construction used cheap pre-cast pipes after winning an extremely low bid.
These pipes are being fingered as the source of the lead contamination, found to be more than thrice the World Health Organization’s limit.
Interestingly, the government did not conduct an on-site quality check on the pipes which also have been used in other public housing projects.
The state giant’s silence is alarming and the absence of any sense of urgency on the part of the government makes a mockery of Hong Kong’s vaunted public health regime.
Instead of doing its own investigation to check the accuracy of Wong’s findings, the government is telling Kai Ching residents it’s okay if you don’t drink too much water.
Dr. Lilian Wong, president of the Hong Kong Pediatric Society, said infants and young children are most at risk of lead poisoning which could harm their neural development and damage their kidneys.
There is no need to overemphasize its long-term effects. These are well documented.
It’s up to the government to make sure Kai Ching residents are not added to the grim statistics by getting to the bottom of things.
As a publicly listed company, China State Construction has a responsibility to come clean.
Hong Kong people are anxious to know they’re not dying a slow death by their own hand every time they open the tap for a drink of water.
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