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Hundreds evacuate due to acid leak in Korean factory
Publication Date : 08-10-2012
Public anger is growing over perceived government nonchalance in the face of an acid leak almost two weeks ago in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province.
The accident at a factory owned by Hube Korea, a local manufacturer of hydrofluoric acid used for the production of displays, has claimed five lives. More than 2,000 residents have also suffered from the effects of the acid on their skin, eyes and respiratory system, while some 300 local residents have opted to temporarily relocate.
Despite growing calls for a rapid response and the designation of the region as a disaster zone, the Ministry of Environment has been accused of not providing effective solutions to the crisis.
Democratic United Party presidential candidate Moon Jae-in visited Gumi on Sunday and met with local residents, pledging to do all he can to support them, while expressing regret over the government’s response. Moon also said that Gumi needs to be designated as a disaster zone so that a swift response can be carried out.
The ministry said in a press release that it has set up a task force team to deal with the matter, adding that the region’s air and water supply are stable.
Also, it noted that it has not detected any signs of acid in residential areas in the outskirts or nearby locations within five metres of the factory since the afternoon on September 28, a day after the accident occurred.
The National Institute of Environmental Research has recommended Gumi to call off evacuations, arguing that the leak does not pose a danger to people’s lives.
Citizen groups criticised the institute for downplaying the situation.
The Citizen Institute for Environment Studies said the acid is highly toxic, and travels quickly through the atmosphere as it is lighter than air. It can cause serious damage to people’s lungs and bones, it said.
Crops, livestock and facilities were severely damaged by the leak, with economic losses reaching up to 20 billion won (US$17.9 million).
Lawmakers of the National Assembly’s environment and labour committee called the government “incompetent”, and gave the Ministry of Environment a failing grade for its lack of countermeasures and for ignoring basic protocols in dealing with the situation.
The industrial complex where the leak occurred is some 150 metres from nearby residential areas.
Authorities and Hube Korea have not yet disclosed the cause of the leak, with the police claiming that the accident may have happened while the company was moving the acid to a storage tank.
CIES researchers also claimed that there was no explosion but only a chemical chain reaction caused by water when firemen were trying to contain the acid leak.