"Most disastrous holiday I've ever had": summer tainted by lead

"Most disastrous holiday I've ever had": summer tainted by lead

For some young locals, the water scandal has brought health fears and hard work. Meet some of those affected by the saga

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Kylie Kwok says she's "pretty strong when it comes to jobs like this".
Photo: Miuccia Chan

Armed with two huge 4.5-litre bottles, eight-year-old Kylie Kwok makes her way to the government-provided water taps. She fills up the bottles, and practically drags them home. It's not easy, but it's a task she has managed to do for the whole summer.

Kylie lives in Kai Ching Estate, in Kowloon City, where drinking water has been found to contain excessive levels of lead. The water crisis has hit a number of housing estates in Hong Kong, and even two primary schools.

Throughout the holidays, children on the estate have been going in and out of their homes for all sorts of reasons: blood tests, fetching water, and maybe some occasional summer activities.

Until the lead problem can be solved, the government has installed taps on each floor of each block of flats. This has eased the residents' burden, though hauling a 4.5-litre bottle of water is still a tough task for a young girl.

Kylie jokes that she has got thinner, thanks to this daily routine. Before, she had to get water from taps on the ground floor. She admits that it is much easier now although it's still a hassle.

"On some occasions, we still have to go down to the lobby to get distilled water for drinking," she explains.

"My parents need to take care of my baby brother, meaning that we need more clean water than we would normally do. Some days we have to fetch water about 10 times a day."

"It's a pain, but I can deal with it. I am pretty strong when it comes to jobs like this," she says confidently.

Sunny Chan, also eight, helps her family out from time to time as well. "It's very annoying not having access to water whenever you want. We have to go on a daily basis, and carrying the water bottles can be very tiring," says Sunny. She says the lead scare has affected her holidays. She is taking part in several summer activities, but all the carrying has left her exhausted.

Although new taps have been installed, some families in Kai Ching Estate still don't trust the government and depend on the daily delivery of distilled water.

Nine-year-old Tiffany Cheung's family is one of them.

She helps her mother with the cooking, so she understands how the lead contamination saga has affected their lives.

"We're still going downstairs to get the distilled water provided by the government, and it's heavy work taking the bottles upstairs," she says. "But my mother insists that we continue to do so because the new taps might have the same problem."

Tiffany is disappointed her holiday has been ruined by constant trips to fetch water. "My parents are worried that there may be contamination in the new pipes, too. This is the most disastrous holiday I've ever had," she says.

Meanwhile, Charlie Yuen, five, and Jin Wu, four, remain cheerful. "It hasn't been much of a difference for me, only that my mother warns me over and over not to drink the water when I'm brushing my teeth," Jin says.

Charlie used to go downstairs to fetch water but not any more, thanks to the taps that were installed on their floor.

"I've had a great summer ... the only problem is we suddenly have a lot of water bottles in our apartment," says Charlie.

The problems began almost two months ago and the summer holidays are almost over.

Children of Kai Ching Estate have mixed feelings about the issue, but one thing is for sure: there have definitely been a lot of changes around their neighbourhood, and they all hope that the lead-in-water problem can be fixed as soon as possible.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A summer tainted by lead

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