The source of dangerous lead in drinking water at the new Perth children’s hospital was likely a government-owned “ring main”, according to WA’s Building Commissioner, contradicting state government claims that contractor John Holland is to blame.
Both the previous Liberal National government and new Labor government have been highly critical of John Holland for a litany of problems at the still-unopened $1.2 billion hospital, including the unsolved issue of elevated lead levels in drinking water.
However, commissioner Peter Gow said in his independent audit report that there were no grounds for immediate disciplinary action against John Holland based on what he had investigated.
“The audit found the most likely causes of the lead contamination were disturbed residues in the QEII medical centre ring main and lead leaching from the brass fittings and fixtures in the PCH plumbing network,” he told reporters on Monday.
Last Thursday, Treasurer Ben Wyatt criticised John Holland for not accepting responsibility for the lead.
In late January, both Premier Colin Barnett and WA’s Health Department director-general David Russell-Weisz said unequivocally the source of the lead was from within the hospital after John Holland project manager Lindsay Albonico said it was from the state-owned pipes.
Mr Gow said “we are satisfied” that there was lead in the ring main and tests had shown that.
That ring main also supplies water to the QEII Medical Centre, including the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, raising fears about lead contamination there.
Mr Gow said there was no evidence those facilities were contaminated by lead.
The new children’s hospital might have been affected by residue because the water was not being used much and was stagnant, given it was already 18 months past its original scheduled opening.
There are strong financial motives at play, with the government having already flagged it would pursue a significant damages claim against John Holland over the various costs of the delay, including keeping the old children’s hospital open.
Mr Gow cited the contractual disputes between the parties as motivation for blaming each other for the lead levels and recommended more, independent tests to ensure the lead issue was resolved.
Opposition Leader Mike Nahan, who blamed John Holland for the lead as Treasurer until last month’s election, rejected any suggestion the previous government had covered up information, saying it followed tests by the Department of Health that found no lead in the ring main.
“If you show any evidence that we have overridden advice to the contrary, please put it forward,” he said.
The Building Commission report concluded the delayed completion, complaints, material failures including the discovery of asbestos in roof panels and contractual disputes suggest John Holland may have failed to properly manage and supervise the project.