SDEV speaks to the media

Following is the transcript of remarks by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, at a media session after attending the Legislative Council meeting today (June 1):

Reporter: ... is it a delaying tactic to delay the testing of water in all the public estates in Hong Kong?

Secretary for Development: Not at all. When you read the report of the Commission of Enquiry, you will notice that there are a couple of recommendations. One of the recommendations is to ask Hong Kong to set a more stringent quality standard for drinking water. The second recommendation, amongst other things, is to develop a water sampling protocol to test water samples. We have constituted an international panel comprising five members. Three of them are international authorities in this respect. The idea is to take advantage of this panel to firstly look at the water quality standard with recommendations to the Government as to the appropriate level to be set. The second objective of this international panel is to develop a set of water sampling protocols. As you may know, at the moment, internationally, there is no one set of universally accepted water sampling protocols. Different countries adopt different methods. Some take stagnant water samples, others take flushed samples. So it is important for us to develop an appropriate water sampling protocol to take this matter forward, whether it is stagnant water alone, or flushed water alone, or a combination thereof. And more importantly, we need to set an action level. For example, in the United States, when they do the stagnant water sampling, the action level is 10 per cent of the samples, meaning that if 10 per cent of the samples, after testing, contains lead to the extent of over 15 micrograms per litre, then follow-up action would be triggered. But in Hong Kong's situation last year, what we had set was a very stringent one. If there was one sample exceeding the level found in a housing estate, the whole estate would be classified as an affected one and a set of follow-up action would be taken. The international experts advised that this might not be the best response in the circumstances. So we do think that it is more prudent for the Government to set up an international panel to give this a detailed study, and then come up with recommendations with an action level for us to take the matter forward. On the other hand, let me put things into perspective, last year when the Water Supplies Department took samples in different housing estates, the protocol was that in a public housing estate, even just one unit contains a sample of over 10 micrograms per litre of lead, the whole estate would be classified as an affected estate. Under this very stringent protocol, apart from the 11 estates that had been identified as affected, all other estates did not even have one single unit with a sample exceeding that particular level. So in the meantime, we do think that this is an important issue but not as pressing and urgent as such. We should take a prudent and comprehensive approach to deal with the issue. In the meantime, we do encourage residents of those housing estates to take flushed water when they want to use the water for drinking. Thank you.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Issued at HKT 18:10