14 November 2019
Helena Wong (right) and her pan-democratic colleagues must continue to work on behalf of the victims of the lead-contamination scandal and hold those responsible for it accountable. Photo: HKEJ
Helena Wong (right) and her pan-democratic colleagues must continue to work on behalf of the victims of the lead-contamination scandal and hold those responsible for it accountable. Photo: HKEJ

We must keep pushing the govt to fix lead-in-water crisis

It’s been almost a month since legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan of the Democratic Party first revealed the contamination by lead of the water supply in Kai Ching Estate.

The debacle still hasn’t shown any sign of ending, and public fear continues as more housing estates are added to the list of those affected.

At first, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the contamination was caused by the welding joints on the pipe fittings, so as to put the blame on the local plumbers who fitted the joints and faucets.

It was an attempt to divert public attention from China State Construction International Holdings Ltd. (03311.HK) and the Shui On Group, the major building contractors for the housing estates discovered to have a lead-tainted water supply.

However, the prefabricated pipe fittings, manufactured in the mainland, that these companies used could have been the actual source of the contamination.

It was only when the scandal continued to unfold and more and more housing estates were found to have excessive levels of lead in their water supply that Leung finally had no choice but to appoint a judge to head an official inquiry into the scandal.

However, Leung merely took half-measures that will be of little help in easing the grave public concern over the safety of our drinking water.

Apart from Kai Ching Estate, Shui Chuen O Estate and Kwai Luen Estate, which were built after 2013, an increasing number of public housing estates across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories have been found to have excessive levels of lead in their water supply.

We have enough reason to believe that — as the government extends its testing program to all public housing estates across the city, and district councilors from major political parties step up their efforts to collect water samples for testing — the scope of the crisis is likely to escalate, and more and more of our fellow citizens are going to be tested positive for excessive lead in their blood.

Worse, a recently completed private residential project known as The Austin was also found to have excessive levels of lead in its tap water, suggesting that the contamination crisis is no longer limited to public housing estates and that even luxury homes built by private developers cannot be exempted from the lead scare.

Even if studies eventually show that the building materials and water pipe fittings used in those housing estates are not the cause of the contamination, our nightmare is far from over, as that could indicate the lead contamination originated from the sources of the city’s water supply — either our reservoirs or Dongjiang, a river in Guangdong province.

So, the lead contamination scandal could develop further into an unprecedented social crisis by which none of us can be unaffected.

The remedial actions taken by the administration — including installing free water filters for households in Kai Ching Estate, providing temporary water supply systems for residents in the affected housing estates and arranging for those residents to take blood tests — are far from enough.

Lawmakers, especially the pan-democrats, must turn up the heat and mobilize the public to exert pressure on the government to get the problem fixed.

As the largest landlord in Hong Kong, the government has understandably given priority to the safety of water supply in public housing estates.

However, since residents of private properties account for more than half of our population, their health must also be taken care of.

Therefore, I strongly urge the government to extend its water testing program to all types of residential properties in the city.

As the first to reveal the lead contamination, the Democratic Party undoubtedly deserves credit.

However, it is important that the Democrats stay the course and closely follow up the issue to make sure the problem is fixed and those who have caused the contamination are held accountable.

In fact the pan-democrats have taken the right step in their latest efforts to organize a victims’ alliance for public housing estate residents who want to file civil charges against the government and the building contractors, but they cannot afford to be complacent and need to do it fast.

At the same time, they also need to stay vigilant against any attempt by the pro-establishment camp to fish in troubled waters.

In fact, these people are a bunch of hypocrites who, on the one hand have claimed they are deeply concerned about the health of the residents from the affected housing estates but, on the other, have voted unanimously against invoking the Legislative Council’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance to conduct an inquiry into the incident.

All they do is pay lip service to safeguarding the interest of the public, but once Beijing gives its orders, they immediately show their true colors and fall into line.

Hongkongers must be careful not to be deceived by them.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 31.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal