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18 killed by humidifier sterilizer: civic group

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 1, 2011 - 17:16

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A civic group on Tuesday alleged that 18 people have died from a mysterious f pulmonary disease caused by a humidifier sterilizer, a death toll far higher than the government estimated.

The activists disclosed 50 additional reports and urged the administration to ban the sales of the sterilizers.

According to the Asian Citizens’ Center for Environment and Health, a total of 18 people, one of whom was pregnant, likely to have died of the pulmonary infection caused by the sterilizers.

“The government and civic activists are conducting animal tests separately to verify the facts. But we are sure that inhaling evaporated sterilizers and consequent health risks are closely related,” said Prof. Lim Jong-han of Inha University School of Medicine.

“The test will only show to what extent problem agents must have damaged people’s health,” he added, calling for the government to issue recall orders for all humidifier sterilizers and control them from the manufacturing stage. Currently, there is no regulation on the humidifier sterilizer.

Kang Chang-ho, a member of the victims’ group, claimed that the risk of the sterilizer was forewarned long ago. “Back in 1998, a gastroenterology academia raised the issue and called for thorough investigation into their correlations. It seems that similar accidents happened at that time,” he said.

The sterilizers drew public attention when the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that a group of medical experts have reached a provisional conclusion that a substance in humidifier disinfectant, when inhaled, is 47.3 times more likely to have caused the lung disease in August. The government acknowledged six related deaths.

“The very small water particles emitting from the humidifier easily reach deep into the lung. If chemical or other harmful materials are carried by the particles, the damage takes place directly to the lung,” said ACCEH in its press release. “That is why large hospitals refrain from using humidifiers, though controlling the humidity in the ward is essential in medical care,” it said, calling for the government to disclose its relevant test results in the near future.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)