Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Deadly Building

A bacteria was found in one of the government offices at Tamar
It was shocking to hear Secretary of Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung was diagnosed with legionnaire's disease in the last few days. At first doctors thought he had pneumonia but it is now found there are traces of the bacteria that cause the disease -- in his private washroom -- in the new government offices in Tamar.

His office is on the 11th floor and an investigation is underway to get water samples from the 10th to 15th floors of the east wing which connect with the pipes from Suen's toilet.

So far the preliminary tests show the all clear which makes it even more strange why the bacteria was found in his washroom.

While the disease is not transmitted by people, Suen probably got it from inhaling contaminated water droplets. The bacteria is called legionella pneumophilia and is a type of bacteria found in water-warm environments such as water tanks, cooling towers, central air conditioning systems, whirlpools, spas and water fountains.

What really baffles scientists is that the bacteria is usually found in older water supply systems, not a building that was opened only a few months ago.

"The new government headquarters should theoretically be more modern than the older ones," said microbiology professor Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong. "It's disappointing that such bacteria are found only several months after moving in. Usually they are found in older buildings where pipes are dated and whose maintenance and designs aren't done properly," he said.

"Now that bacteria are found, the water supply system must at least be cleaned, and the design of the water supply system must be examined," he added.

Contractors were racing to finish the new government offices and so there are concerns not enough attention was paid to building them. The building, which looks like a giant upside-down U-shape has been the focus of much criticism. There were complaints of how the government seemed to deliberately make it more difficult for the public to access the site and the logistical challenge of moving some 3,000 civil servants into the building.

Meanwhile the 67-year-old Suen is still recovering in hospital.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had hoped these new offices at Tamar would be one of his lasting legacies; now it will be remembered as the building that nearly killed one of his lieutenants.

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