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Nearly 1 in 4 recognized victims of toxic humidifier sterilizer products dead: civic group

Keepsakes of victims in the 2011 deadly humidifier sterilizer scandal are displayed on the stairs of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Keepsakes of victims in the 2011 deadly humidifier sterilizer scandal are displayed on the stairs of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Almost 1 in 4 people recognized as victims of deadly humidifier sterilizer products in South Korea have died, a civic group said Wednesday.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the humidifier sterilizer scandal, the Asian Citizen's Center for Environment and Health released a report showing that a total of 7,535 people -- 1,687 deceased and 5,848 survivors -- had reported they were victims of toxic humidifier sterilizer products as of Aug. 20.

Of the total, 4,120 had been granted damage relief as of July.

The fatality rate among the recognized victims almost reached 25 percent, with 1,016 of them dead.

The scandal, involving Oxy Reckitt Benckiser, the local unit of British hygiene product maker Reckitt Benckiser Group plc, and other companies came to light after four pregnant women died of unknown lung problems in 2011.

Local authorities launched a probe into the case and concluded that it was caused by polyhexamethylene guanidine, an anti-bacterial agent used in humidifier cleansers that can be fatal when inhaled.

Among the recognized victims, teenagers accounted for the most at 1,241 (30 percent), followed by those in their 40s at 658 (16 percent). There were a lot of victims aged 9 and under who have now become teenagers, the group explained.

The number of deaths was the highest among those in their 60s and 70s at 237 and 235, respectively. But the fatality rate was the highest among child victims aged under 10, at 77 percent.

"The high fatality rate among younger victims is attributable to their biological weakness due to their age and long exposure to the deadly disinfectants in line with their hours spent in bed," the group said.

The group also pointed out there are currently 55 surviving victims of the humidifier cleaner scandal aged nine and under, showing they used the problematic products even after health authorities ordered the companies to halt production and recall all the potentially fatal products in the market in November 2011.

"This means the government and companies did not recall the wrongful products properly and failed to inform the public not to use them," it said. (Yonhap)
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