Environment & Health Hong Kong

Blood tests show elevated levels of lead in mother and child at affected estate

Blood samples from a mother and her son have been shown to contain high levels of lead. The pair have been living at one of the housing estates where lead contamination had been confirmed in the water supply.

Local media TVB used a private clinic to conduct blood tests for two households at the affected Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung. Results from a household of four showed that the mother and her five year-old son both had blood lead levels that exceeded healthy standards.

The mother Mrs Leung, who is also breastfeeding an eight-month-old daughter, recorded 6.5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL). Her five year-old son recorded 7.2 μg/dL.

blood testing lead contamination

Mother, her five year-old son and eight month-old daughter. Photo: TVB.

According to standards set out by the Department of Health, a blood lead level in the range of 5 – 44 μg/dL is considered elevated with potential health risks for people under 18, and pregnant and lactating mothers. Measurements above 45 μg/dL are considered significantly elevated with risks of lead poisoning. For adults, the corresponding standards are 10 – 50 μg/dL and above 50 μg/dL.

The physician who administered the test, Dr Gabriel Choi Kin, said the government needed to follow up on whether residents showed symptoms of lead poisoning. These symptoms include stomach diseases, neurological inflammation, muscle paralysis and anemia.

The mother said that she “will definitely pursue [the Housing Authority]… regarding the doctor fees as [the family] may not be able to afford it.” The father expressed his anger towards the government, saying “when [the government] cannot even guarantee something as simple as water safety, what is the point of [the government] saying that they will focus on livelihood issues?”

blood testing lead contamination

The Leung family confirmed with blood lead levels above standard. Photo: TVB.

According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, blood lead levels of under 10 μg/dL for children are associated with IQ deficits and behavioural issues. Lead poisoning through breast milk is also a concern for mothers with very high blood lead content.

In the results of the first batch of blood testing announced by the government on Saturday, all samples were considered normal. Secretary of Health Ko Wing-man also said that tests to verify that causation between the lead-in-water and blood lead content could be done when more blood sampling results are released.

Last Saturday, the government first confirmed that the Kai Ching Estate had lead concentrations in its water supply exceeding World Health Organisation standards. Lead contamination was soon found in two other estates last Tuesday and on Monday. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying recently announced the establishment of an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the issue.

Blood tests show elevated levels of lead in mother and child at affected estate