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[Newsmaker] Korean victims of toxic disinfectant ask public to boycott Strepsils

Victims of a toxic disinfectant for humidifiers that was sold in South Korea from 2001-2011 held a rally in central Seoul on Tuesday asking the public, especially local pharmacists, to boycott products by Oxy, a local subsidiary of British conglomerate Reckitt Benckiser that also produced the fatal cleaning product.

“Oxy should leave this country, Oxy should leave this country for good,” the victims, many of whom have lost their family members after they came in to contact with the product, chanted during the rally. “We ask the public to continue boycotting the Oxy products. We want justice, we want Oxy out.”

Victims of a toxic disinfectant for humidifiers hold a rally in central Seoul. (Claire Lee/ The Korea Herald)
Victims of a toxic disinfectant for humidifiers hold a rally in central Seoul. (Claire Lee/ The Korea Herald)

It is believed that at least 100 Koreans died after being exposed to the disinfectant for humidifiers, which became available for sale here back in 2001. It was taken off the market after the government found a connection between patients with lung damage and the product in 2011. Four Oxy executives were charged for selling the product without proper warnings back in 2016.

The group of victims, however, claim that at least 6,023 Koreans have been affected by the Oxy product, and 1,328 have died. They say many cannot even register their late members of the family as victims as it’s difficult for them to prove that their deaths were caused by the disinfectant for humidifiers.

In the wake of widespread consumer boycotts that took place in 2016, it has been reported that sales by Oxy nearly halved over the past two years.

Still, the victims on Wednesday claimed that the company is “still present” in the local market in Korea, especially Oxy’s best-known products such as Strepsils, a popular line of throat lozenges used to relive discomfort caused by throat infections, and Gaviscon, Oxy’s popular medication for acid reflux and heartburn.

“We ask pharmacists, especially those who own their own pharmacies, to boycott these two specific products by Oxy -- Strepsils and Gaviscon,” said a victim during the rally. 

“Nothing is over for us. We still suffer. So many families are affected by the high cost of medical bills, feelings of guilt and trauma. No justice will be served until Oxy is out of this country.”

“I bought my own mother the Oxy product when it first became available in 2001,” Kim Seon-ock, who lost her mother back in 2007, told The Korea Herald.

“When my mother was in hospital, doctors said they couldn’t tell what exactly caused her lung damage. When I finally found out it was linked with the Oxy disinfectant, my heart broke down. I don’t know why it’s still the victims’ responsibility to prove that they were affected by the product; it should be the other way around. Oxy should be the one to prove that all the allegations made by the victims are true or not (by conducting an internal investigation and their past products).”

By Claire Lee (