The Korea Herald


Seaweed, mask sales soar on radiation fears

By 고영아

Published : March 30, 2011 - 19:06

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Fears of radiation from Japan have pushed up sales of masks and food such as kelp considered to help prevent poisoning, local retailers said Wednesday.

Concerns over radiation have been rising during the past few days on news that traces of radioactive materials are being detected throughout the nation following a nuclear crisis in Japan.

The state-run Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety confirmed Monday that traces of xenon 133, a radioactive isotope, were discovered in Gangwon Province on March 23.

Since radioactive xenon does not exist in the air naturally, KINS presumed that the material was released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, which was struck by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

The nuclear regulator also said Tuesday that radioactive iodine 131 and cesium were found in the country’s air but the tiny amount would pose no health risk.

KINS’ safety assurance, however, does not seem to have calmed consumers.

Sales of foods such as sea mustard and kelp which are said to function as a defense against radiation poisoning have doubled at major retail outlets here.

Despite experts’ advice that their effectiveness has not been proved, the foods are being bought in the belief that they stop radioactive material from being absorbed into the body.

According to E-mart Co., the nation’s largest discount store chain, sales of the two products rose by 122 percent and 96 percent, respectively, during the March 15-22 period and have remained at a similar level.

Sales of fish, on the contrary, have plunged according to sources.

On top of radiation fears, seasonal yellow dust from China and Mongolia is also driving the sales of products such as protective face masks and air cleaners, retailers said.

E-mart said sales of protective face masks surged 36 percent on-year between March 22 and 28. Gmarket Inc., the country’s leading online auctioneer, also said its sales of face masks surged 35 percent on-year during the period.

LG Electronics Co., Korea’s No. 1 home appliance maker, said its sales of air washers reached around 8,000 units this month, 10 percent more than the average sales on a monthly basis.

Air purifiers also suppress airborne bacteria.

Yet experts said that people’s unwarranted fears may be a bigger problem than the radiation itself.

“Theoretically, radiation will more likely be diluted while traveling around 1,000 kilometers (from Japan) and it is almost impossible that it reaches the country through the ocean current,” they said.

By Koh Young-aah (