The total number of toxic humidifier sterilizer victims has swelled to 1,848 as of April, according to the latest available reports Thursday, with pressure building on the government to intervene.
During a press conference at the National Assembly, the Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health said that 566 additional victims, including 41 who have passed away, were listed at a civil complaint center from January to April 25.
The complaint center, supported by the ACCEH, had operated temporarily after the government decided to stop receiving damage reports from victims. The Environment Ministry decided to start receiving the reports again from this month, after facing public criticism. The ministry conducted damage surveys in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
“Although the ministry has started receiving damage applications again, its efforts to interact with victims is still not enough. Some victims complained that they could not reach the ministry for three days,” said Lim Heung-kyu from the ACCEH.
“The government should work in an active manner to find out (if there are) more victims by going through medical records, rather than waiting to receive damage applications from them,” he added.
Meanwhile, the prosecution summoned and questioned Oxy Reckitt Benckiser’s finance director Ulrich Hosterbach and the company’s in-house lawyer surnamed Kim on Thursday. Hosterbach was responsible for funds management when Oxy requested Seoul National University for its product’s toxicity test in 2011.
Oxy Reckitt Benckiser’s finance director Ulrich Hosterbach appears for questioning at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Prosecutors added that they would soon summon former CEO John Lee. The Korean-American, currently CEO of Google Korea, headed the company from June 2005 to May 2010 when sales of toxic humidifier sterilizer peaked. He will be questioned mainly on whether he tried to minimize damages by ordering a ban on sales or recalling the disputed products.
Both Hosterbach and Lee are banned from leaving the country.
On Saturday, former CEO Shin Hyun-woo was arrested on accidental homicide charges, along with two senior officials from RB Korea.
On Thursday, the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, liberal lawyers group Minbyun and nonprofit organization People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy submitted a request for government inspection to the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea.
They argued that the government and related ministries did not take due responsibility over the damages caused by the toxic humidifier sterilizers.
“It is important to punish the companies who did not follow their civic responsibility. But we cannot help but also ask for accountability of the government which may have taken part,” read a statement released by KFEM.
By Kim Da-sol (firstname.lastname@example.org)