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Ministry launches survey of household biocides

Victims, families lodge protest against companies with EU delegation

The Environment Ministry on Wednesday said it would survey household biocide products made and sold by some 8,000 companies here until the end of next year to review their safety.

In a group briefing attended by representatives of distributors, manufacturers, and importers, the ministry said that about 30 companies with major market shares have shown a willingness to sign memorandums of understanding with the ministry for this purpose. These companies produce the 15 types of household products under the ministry’s supervision. A ministry official told The Korea Herald the names of these companies will be released early next week.

Under the MOUs, companies will be required to submit a list of the chemicals used inside their products, and the amount and purpose of those chemicals. After the ministry assesses the products’ safety, the results will be made public.
The Environment Ministry’s Chemical Policy Division director Hong Jeong-seop briefs on the plan to conduct a full-fledged survey on household biocide goods on Wednesday. Yonhap
The Environment Ministry’s Chemical Policy Division director Hong Jeong-seop briefs on the plan to conduct a full-fledged survey on household biocide goods on Wednesday. Yonhap
“We will firstly look into the companies that make and sell frequently used household products such as deodorant or spray-type items, as they have high market share and can pose more health risks for users,” the ministry said.

Companies that attended the briefing included LG Household & Health Care, AmorePacific, ELand, Aekyung, Pigeon and Procter & Gamble.

Companies which do not wish to sign an MOU with the ministry can still be asked to hand in the list of the substances based on the Chemicals Registration and Assessment Act enacted last year, the ministry said.

The survey will expand into biocide-containing industrial and electronic goods, which come under the Industry Ministry’s control, from next year. The Environment Ministry said it would cooperate with the Industry Ministry to collect data from online and offline malls and low price distributers, which sell products that are labeled “sterilizer,” “antibacterial” or “antiseptic.”

On Tuesday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced it will begin its own process of surveying for any unreported harm from toxic humidifier disinfectants at public welfare facilities.

The survey will be conducted at some 1,003 national and public day care centers, 353 nursing homes, 269 residential facilities for the disabled.

The city will look into the facilities’ past records of using six types of humidifier disinfectants, which include Oxy Ssak Ssak, Cefu Humidifier Disinfectant, Wiselect Humidifier Disinfectant, Homeplus Humidifier Cleaner, Ato Organic Humidifier Disinfectant and Humidifier Clean Up. These products were banned from sale after being linked to at least 146 deaths by users.

“Although the government banned manufacturing and sales of disputed products in August 2011, we think there may be more potential victims from the use of toxic humidifier disinfectants,” said a Seoul City official.

It also vowed to support victims by operating psychological care programs and helping them to report their problems to the Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute under the Environment Ministry. According to KEITI, at least 40 Seoul citizens have been confirmed as victims of toxic humidifier disinfectants.

Meanwhile, the prosecution sped up its probe into Oxy Reckitt Benckiser’s alleged manipulation of evidence that was presented by a Seoul National University professor surnamed Cho when the case broke out in 2011. Cho was indicted Tuesday for manipulating the toxicity test results of PHMG in return for money from Oxy. 

The prosecution is also seeking to question former Oxy Reckitt Benckiser CEO Gaurav Jain soon on whether the U.K. headquarters was aware of the situation and the alleged fabrication. Jain reportedly said he would respond to the summons after appointing his lawyer.

Cho’s attorney reportedly told the prosecution that the headquarters’ officials had attended a meeting in November 2011 when his research team reported the results of the reproduction-toxicity test.

On Wednesday, the prosecution called in three officials of Lotte Mart and Homeplus to expand the probe to the local companies.

As the probe continued to spread, the group of victims and their families visited the Delegation of the European Union and called for action against Oxy, Tesco and Danish company Ketox.

The group urged the delegation to check the three companies’ involvement in the disinfectant deaths and to adopt a resolution to stress the accountability of the European companies.

It also visited the Norwegian Embassy to call for action against Oxy. The Government Pension Fund of Norway is the third-largest shareholder of the U.K.-based company Reckitt Benckiser.

The group said it would visit the British Embassy on Thursday and Danish Embassy on Friday.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com
     Kim Da-sol         (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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