Perth Children’s Hospital report finds brass fittings likely caused lead contamination

More major remedial work will be needed at the problem-plagued Perth Children’s Hospital after a comprehensive report found brass fittings to be the likely cause of lead contamination in the facility’s drinking water, which has contributed to lengthy delays in its opening. In a report by the State’s chief health officer Tarun Weeramanthri, the fittings were found to have corroded, leaching lead into the water system. Professor Weeramanthri recommended the fittings, contained in 1,200 mixing valve assembly boxes, be removed and replaced. The report found the problem is “most likely widespread throughout the building” and sheets the problem home to building contractor John Holland. It said “the construction phase” was “the critical period when the problem emerged and failed to be addressed”, and that the issue might have been identified earlier if the project had been adequately documented. “Failures of the contract management and assurance function during the construction phase may underpin both the emergence of the problem and the failure to identify and address it in a timely fashion,” the report found. The hospital was originally slated to open in 2015 but has been plagued by a series of problems including asbestos in roofing panels and damage to hundreds of decorative panels on the building’s facade. Health Minister Roger Cook said the hospital was now unlikely to open this year. “I believe it will be early 2018 but obviously we have to be sure that the chief health officer is satisfied,” he said. Mr Cook said identifying the source of the lead had been “an incredibly frustrating process”, hampered by lack of access to the site until the Government accepted practical completion of the building in April. He said rectifying the brass fittings problem was the responsibility of John Holland, but said there should be no additional cost to the Government. “We don’t think this will have an impact in terms of the overall budget in relation to the taxpayer,” he said. “We believe this is the sort of thing that the builder will take care of.” Water testing results in June showed only 74 per cent compliance with Australian drinking water standards, despite the introduction of a phosphate treatment flushed through the pipes aimed at inhibiting lead leaching. A Building Commission audit released in April found the most likely source of contamination was either the ring main pipes at the precinct or the brass fittings installed at the new hospital, while an internal government report found the brass fittings were to blame. Professor Weeramanthri’s report also revealed that more than 200 kilolitres of water a day is being flushed through the pipes at the hospital, the same amount that would be required if the hospital was fully operational. It found the phosphate treatment that started in May has been “partially” effective at bringing down lead levels and should be continued. But questions were raised in the report about chlorination of the hospital’s water supply, which can cause corrosion. It found John Holland had failed to show whether it had conducted chlorination to required standards, despite repeated requests. John Holland has repeatedly argued there was lead coming into the hospital from an outside source. A spokeswoman for John Holland said the company would not comment on the report until next week.

ABC News, 11 August 2017 ;