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최종편집 : 2023.11.27 월 18:07
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 Jeong Yeon-ju&Ji Jae-lim
The Movie Toxic & the Case of the Humidifier Disinfectant
제 204 호    발행일 : 2022.05.30 

“The weapon that caused the second largest number of deaths after radioactive matter, and an environmental tragedy among the top three in the world.”

  This is how specialists describe the humidifier disinfectant incident. With 8,940,000 exposed it is estimated to have caused 20,366 deaths, and 950,000 cases of health issues. (This according to a research report from the social disasters commission.) The humidifier disinfectant (germicide) was the cause of death of the victims who were mainly infants, children, pregnant women and elderly. It was found that using the humidifier disinfectant leads to acute lung injuries including damage to the airways, dyspnoea, coughing, acute lung damage, etc.
  The humidifier disinfectant was advertised using the phrase ‘for the first time in the world’ and ‘the only one in South Korea’ by Yugong (SK Chemical) in 1994, while many similar products from other companies were being introduced. 17 years after its release, the disinfectant became famous and common, as its sales recoded over 10 million bottles during the 17 years after its release. However, in spring of 2011, after a pregnant woman, who entered a university hospital in Seoul, died of an acute lung disease of unknown cause, an epidemiological investigation was held. It revealed the shocking news that the very common disinfectant is in fact lethal and can lead to death. Then, in 2022, 11 years later, the employees and companies that participated in the production mostly ended up being found innocent or receiving light punishments, while the government, looked on with folded arms. The guilty parties did not make convincing apologies, nor did they offer acceptable compensations. Meanwhile, victims and deaths kept increasing. The disinfectant incident had become famous over a period of 10 years, however, the endless negotiations kept on going without a complete solution. The victims of the incident organized themselves and kept protesting and leading boycotts on the products and company, demanding compensation for their loss.

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  The movie Toxic premiered last month, and it aimed to magnify the humidifier disinfectant issue, and it recorded a total of 155,027 moviegoers according to statistics from KOBIS. This prompted a chairman of the Victims Compensation Coordination Committee, Kim Tae-jong, to send out a message of appreciation to the producers for making the movie. Mr. Kim said, “the first day when the movie was released, every demonstrator watched it together. However, because it is a movie, there were some parts that was far from reality, and I wanted to have the main focus on the bereaved families, but this was regrettably not the case.”

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  Recently, CBT reporters met the chairman of the Victims Compensation Coordination committee, Kim Tae-jong, to look into the stance of the humidifier disinfectant incidents victims, as well as action from governments and enterprises in response to the movie Toxic. Mr. Kim is one of the bereaved family members who lost his wife 2 years ago because of the humidifier disinfectants.

Q1. Apparently, the victims’ organizations are meeting with production, distribution companies to resolve the compensation issue at the ‘Committee on Remedying Damage Caused by Humidifier Disinfectants’ a private consultative organization. How was this committee established? Also, is there any conclusions or outcomes to disclose at this time?
  “We had business negotiations with the director of AK Holdings from Aekyung Industry, Park Chan-young. We met with the working group of the Humidifier Disinfectants Enterprise Liability Compensation Association every week for negotiations, though it did not go through well. After several organizations joined to negotiate around the 8th of October 8th, 2021, the Committee on Remedying Damage Caused by Humidifier Disinfectants was established on October 5th. We started discussing compensation in private and laid the groundwork for the committee. In addition, with the efforts of the victims’ organizations, the period for the Committee on Remedying Damage Caused by the Humidifier Disinfectants was extended except for the Oxy and Aekyung Industries.”

Q2. How does the government react to these efforts by Victims’ Organizations? Do you think you have received adequate compensation from the government?
  “The Moon Jae-in government provided a total of 25 billion won to the victims. About 1,000 people, including my family, were paid special remedial benefits. Moreover, the third and fourth-tier victims, who were not previously recognized as victims, have now also received subsidies as a ‘Special Act on Remedy for Damage Caused by the Humidifier Disinfectants’ was promulgated. Also, more people could get financial support from the country as the ‘Committee on Remedying Damage Caused by Humidifier Disinfectants’ was established. Remedial benefits now paid by the committee range from 200 million to 300 million won per death, but I think the amount of benefits are still less than the damage. In addition, 230 citizen campaign groups are boycotting the products of Oxy and AeKyung in front of big supermarket such as Lotte-Mart and E-Mart. The government should not just observe the situation, but also push ahead with compensation to pay damages, so that victims can be compensated adequately. As the government leaves it up to civilians to negotiate, the process of the compensation tends to become paralyzed when one or two companies give opposition.”

Q3. Oxy and Aekyung Industry had to pay more than 60% of the total compensation (A total of 560 billion KRW) according to the final adjustment plan for humidifier disinfectant damage relief. However, the two companies rejected the proposed adjustment of damage. In fact, the compensation adjustment was in danger of being virtually nullified. In this situation, what do you want to ask to the company or the government?
  “Oxy compensated about 400 victims as if it had compensated ‘all’ the victims. I can’t accept the attitude of the company. The rest of the victims have to be compensated for the damage, too. Victims’ Organizations are protesting in front of those companies; Aekyung on Monday and Oxy on Tuesday. Especially Oxy sold a lot of hand sanitizers due to COVID-19. As far as I know, the company has made 200 trillion won from selling hand sanitizers, but they’re arguing that it’s hard to pay even 500 billion won for compensation. Not only Oxy, I think the attitude of companies (Including Aekyung Industry) that refuse to compensate for damage is also an act of deceiving the victims. In the humidifier disinfectant case, the death toll has been 1,773 so far (based on May 13th), which is the biggest victim since the Korean War, and I’m very ashamed for the country’s passive response. Now that a new government is inaugurated, I hope the new government, and environment minister, will solve the remaining problems well.”

  The humidifier disinfectant case is the first biological incident in the history of the world and the worst chemical disaster in the history of Korea. Cho Yong-sun, a director of the movie Toxic, said, “It is an illusion that I am not a victim because I did not use humidifier disinfectants. In the military, schools, government offices, hospitals, and companies, wherever humidifiers were used, the humidifier disinfectant was purchased and used in large quantities. We must not forget that we were also victims of indirect exposure. It’s our story.” As such, anyone reading this article may have been an indirect victim of humidifier disinfectants. How about thinking that the victims of humidifier disinfectant could be anyone, not someone?

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By Jeong Yeon-ju
yd0725@cbnu.ac.kr
By Ji Jae-lim
jlim0714@cbnu.ac.kr

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