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Ministry burned for lax regulation of harmful acids

A sulfuric acid attack against Seoul police earlier this week exposed the lax supervision of harmful acids by the Environment Ministry.

A police officer at Gwanak Police Station was attacked Monday with highly corrosive sulfuric acid by a women surnamed Jeon, who was at the station to file a complaint with the Cyber Investigation Team.
A corridor of Gwanak Police Station where the attacker poured sulfuric acid on police officers. (Yonhap)
A corridor of Gwanak Police Station where the attacker poured sulfuric acid on police officers. (Yonhap)
Jeon reportedly told the police that she had purchased the sulfuric acid online in November 2015. Police has sought for the arrest of Jeon and said further investigation is underway. She is presumed to be suffering from mental illness.

Current law states that purchasing highly corrosive acids – such as sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid -- is only allowed for those who purchase large amounts of over 20kg. A buyer is also required to present one’s identification or go through a real name verification process before the purchase is made.

Incidents involving acid throwing in public places have happened often here.

In 2015, a man in Seoul poured sulfuric acid on his girlfriend on the street after she ended the relationship. In 2014, another man attacked a prosecutor with acid at a government complex building in Gyeonggi Province.

To deter chemical-throwing attacks, the Environment Ministry joined hands with online retail giants last year to crackdown on the distribution of such harmful substances at online malls.

“We also launched a cyber watchdog for real-time supervision of the distribution of harmful chemicals, to encourage the correct way of using harmful acids,” said an official from the Environment Ministry.

Despite the ministry’s efforts, purchasing harmful acids remains easy and prevalent, mainly due to sellers who are lax with checking ID.

Currently, buyers can purchase a bottle of solution with a concentration of acid that is below 10 percent from pharmacies in Seoul without having to present identification.

According to the law, acids below 10 percent concentration are regarded “less harmful” and available at normal stores.

Experts argued that even minimal traces of such acids can be harmful, calling for a stricter regulations on public use.

“Like what Jeon purchased, less concentrated acid is still very dangerous on human skin, and it’s strong enough to cause at least second-degree bum immediately,” said Ryu Jae-hyun, a professor of Chemistry at Sungkyunkwan University.

“Selling those acids at online malls and pharmacies are still dangerous, since they can be used for different purposes without legal restriction,” he added.

By Kim Da-sol (