18 February 2019
Director of Water Supplies Enoch Lam (second from right), shown here with other officials at a press conference on Thursday, said his department will strengthen water supply regulations. Photo: HKEJ
Director of Water Supplies Enoch Lam (second from right), shown here with other officials at a press conference on Thursday, said his department will strengthen water supply regulations. Photo: HKEJ

Action plan launched to enhance drinking water safety

The government will enhance its monitoring of the quality of drinking water consumed by the public, citing lessons it learned from the lead-tainted water scandal in 2015.

After reviewing its approach and tapping consultants to study the experience and practices of other countries on drinking water safety, the government on Thursday announced an Action Plan for Enhancing Drinking Water Safety, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The plan is jointly developed by the Development Bureau and the Water Supplies Department and adopts World Health Organization guidelines on drinking water standards.

It comprises five parts: drinking water standards and enhanced water quality monitoring program, plumbing material control and commissioning requirements for new plumbing installations, water safety plans, water safety regulatory regime, and publicity and public education.

Director of Water Supplies Enoch Lam Tin-sing said that under the plan, the Water Supplies Department will take 664 samples from taps across Hong Kong’s 18 districts every year, based on their population, to test for six metals, namely antimony, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead and nickel.

The random sampling is set to begin in December. Participation is voluntary.

Staff from the Water Supplies Department will follow a two-tier sampling protocol by taking reference from the United Kingdom. For tier one, a 1-liter unflushed sample will be randomly taken during daytime. If excessive amounts of the metals are found in the first sample, the tap will first be flushed for five minutes and then shut for 30 minutes before another 1-liter unflushed sample is taken to verify the metal exposure of consumers.

If excess amounts of the metals are found in both samples, auxiliary samples will be tested to provide supplementary information, a government source said.

Authorities will also collect water consumption data for the past three to five years before deciding if it is necessary to tighten safety standards, the source said.

Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said all public housing estates built after 2005 and installed with bronze pipes will also be subject to drinking water sampling.

Meanwhile, Lam said his department will strengthen regulations on water supply systems, including introducing the six-hour stagnation water sampling test and two new metal testing parameters starting next month to ensure that the new plumbing installations have been adequately flushed before approvals are given.

A new system that requires water pipe contractors to register with the government is also under study.

The Development Bureau will set up an independent task force to monitor and regulate water quality. It will also form an advisory committee, whose members will include academics and medical experts, to give advice on drinking water safety.

Democratic Party lawmaker Dr. Helena Wong Pik-wan, who first exposed the contamination scandal in July 2015, questioned the effectiveness of the action plan, noting that did not follow suggestions made by the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water.

She urged the government to formulate a specific law on drinking water safety and establish an independent department to monitor water quality.

It is said that many residents of Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City, the first public housing estate where lead-tainted water was found in 2015, are still afraid of using tap water for drinking and would rather take water from public pipes, even though all of the in-house pipes have been replaced.

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