Fetal deaths, premature births likely to be recognized as toxic disinfectant victims

By Kim Da-sol
  • Published : Oct 5, 2016 - 17:05
  • Updated : Oct 5, 2016 - 18:16
 The Korean government is close to recognizing fetal deaths and premature births as being linked to the use of a toxic humidifier disinfectant, paving the way for state compensation, the environment ministry said Wednesday.

“The matter is still under discussion between ministry officials and experts, but it is true that we found medical evidence linking between fetal deaths and a mother’s use of toxic humidifier disinfectant,” Seo Hong-won, an official at the Environment Ministry, told reporters. 


The ministry’s confirmation came after officials at the ministry’s two affiliate agencies -- Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute and National Institute of Environmental Research -- revealed the existence of evidence linking miscarriages, stillbirths and preterm births to the mother’s use of the toxic humidifier disinfectant.

The ministry, together with experts, is currently verifying victims of the toxic substances widely used to sterilize humidifiers in Korea up until five years ago to provide them with due compensation and medical treatment.

So far, 189 Koreans who died mostly of lung failure have been formally recognized as victims, while claims filed this year have reached over 3,400.

Self-claimed victims, their families and civic groups have been demanding the government broaden the scope of the victim recognition and compensation process to include non-lung-related symptoms, arguing it “is failing to properly consider those who suffer from other long-term health illnesses and underlying diseases.”

According to the government’s current victim verification process, set in 2014, the scale goes from 1-4. A rating of 1 indicates a high level of certainty that victims’ lung-related diseases were caused by the use of humidifier disinfectants.

Based on personal clinical results, diagnostic images and the level of exposure, victims who suffered lung diseases are classified as category 1-2 victims, while those with other respiratory-related diseases fall into categories 3-4. 

Meanwhile, the National Assembly’s ad-hoc committee came to an end as of Wednesday after a 90-day investigation and discussion on how to compensate the victims.

The opposition party lawmakers’ demand to extend the period to continue investigations was refused by the ruling party lawmakers.

“It is regrettable that the committee failed to extend the period to provide more complete compensation method for victims,” said Rep. Woo Won-sik of The Minjoo Party of Korea, the head of the special committee, Wednesday.

The humidifier disinfectant case came to light after four pregnant women died of unidentified lung-related diseases in 2011. A state-led investigation later confirmed a connection between at least 698 lung-related deaths and the chemicals used in humidifier disinfectants. But civic groups have been claiming that the total number of victims is well above 200,000, due to the delayed response and insufficient action by the government.

By Kim Da-sol (