Public anger rises over Gumi acid leak damage

By Park Hyung-ki
  • Published : Oct 4, 2012 - 20:46
  • Updated : Oct 4, 2012 - 21:34
An acid leak at a chemicals factory that exploded last week in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province, is seriously affecting residents, crops and livestock in the neighborhood.

The explosion claimed five lives with 18 wounded. About 400 were treated for headaches and breathing difficulties, according to the Gumi government and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement.

Gumi has set up a task force to counter the rapid spread of the leak that has affected some 100 households, and their crops and livestock some 150 meters surrounding the industrial complex.

The city office has asked the central government to designate its region a disaster zone so that it can secure finances to take immediate measures.

The government has not yet responded to this situation that erupted a week ago. The incident had already put Gumi under growing criticism for belatedly dealing with the matter and calling off an evacuation, saying that the leak is “not life-threatening.”
Crops severely damaged by a Sept. 27 acid leak from a chemical factory in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap News)

However, hydrochloric acid is extremely harmful to human and agriculture assets, and even minor exposure will cause negative side effects on the respiratory system and skin, said Koh Do-hyun, a researcher at Citizen Institute for Environment Studies of KFEM, who went to Gumi and is on constant watch over the matter.

KFEM has requested that Gumi and Hube Global, the acid manufacturer for displays, disclose how this happened and the safety system within the complex that is managed by the city, the government and the state-run Korea Water Resources Corp.

The Citizen Institute said that the complex needs to be thoroughly examined as it may lack an adequate safety system, adding that its location is highly unsuitable given that it is in very close proximity to residences and crops.

Officials have not yet disclosed the cause of the leak. Hube Global declined comment.

On Sept. 27, the leak occurred from a factory owned by Hube Global.

Officials claim there was no explosion. They said, the acid leak was first contained with water by firemen, which caused a chemical reaction and created smoke that made it look like an explosion.

There is a claim that a process machine malfunction may have led to the acid spill or leak.

Hube Global has not yet made any official comment on the incident. Media reports said that the company has settled with Gumi to compensate the families of the five who died in the accident.

It may be difficult for Hube Global to pay for all damages caused by the leak given that it is a small- and medium-size company with very limited financial resources.

Hube Global, 66 percent owned by founder and CEO Heo Ik-sang, had a net income of some 842 million won in 2011. It had liquid asset of 22 billion won, according to a regulatory filing.

By Park Hyong-ki (