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South Korean chemical plant spill labelled ‘special disaster zone’

Posted on behalf of Soo Bin Park.

The South Korean government on Monday designated the area around a chemical spill in the southeastern city of Gumi a special disaster zone, after more than 3,000 people were injured.

On 27 September, an explosion at the Hube Globe chemical plant released about eight tonnes of hydrofluoric acid, which can damage lungs and bones and affect the nervous system. The leak killed five workers and injured 18 others, according to the state-run Yonhap news agency.

The secondary damage has been aggressive and fast spreading.

Nearly 3,200 people have been treated for nausea, chest pain, rashes and sore eyes after inhaling toxic fumes, and the leak has also damaged crops and livestock. Some have accused the government of botching the response to the accident. Firefighters failed to use calcium hydroxide, the neutralizing agent for hydrofluoric acid, and the local authorities were slow to evacuate workers at the factory and residents in nearby regions.

A special disaster zone receives financial assistance from the central government to cover rehabilitation costs, as well as tax cuts and other benefits for residents.

“Last week’s examination showed the damage is presumed to be too extensive for the local government to handle on its own,” Yook Dong-han, vice-minister of the Prime Minister’s Office told Yonhap.

About 80 other firms in the industrial complex around the plant have been affected, with some forced to shut plants. The estimated damage is 17.7 billion won (US$15.9 million).

The cause of the explosion is still unknown. A government statement said that the leak caused “considerable” damage, but added that precise data would only be provided after an ongoing inspection by government and experts. “The government will make detailed measurements to administer support, and plans to carry out another round of in-depth inspections into the region as early as possible,” said Yook.


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