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Korea offers extra aid for humidifier disinfectant victims

The government announced Friday that it would provide toxic humidifier disinfectant victims with monthly living costs and nursing fees, starting from next month.

According to the Environment Ministry, victims will be given between 310,000 won ($262) and 940,000 won per month for living costs, depending on the severity of their symptoms.

Those with lung related diseases and classified as category one and two according to the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act will be the biggest recipients, while those who make less than the full-time minimum wage (1,260,000 won per month) will be prioritized in receiving for the subsidy.

The measure comes in addition to a conventional state support program which was initiated back in 2014 to cover the costs for medical treatment and funerals of the victims.

“We are planning to supply them with money for the next five years, during which time we assume the lawsuit against the government will be resolved,” the Environment Vice Minister Jeong Yeon-man said in a briefing. The victims and their families sued the government last month, claiming that authorities had allegedly overlooked harms from toxic humidifier disinfectant since 2011.

Environment Vice Minister Jeong Yeon-man leaves the briefing room after announcing additional subsidy plans for humidifier disinfectant victims on Friday. (Yonhap)
Environment Vice Minister Jeong Yeon-man leaves the briefing room after announcing additional subsidy plans for humidifier disinfectant victims on Friday. (Yonhap)
Along with the subsidy, the government will also provide the victims and their families with counseling for any mental suffering.

The ministry also said that it would expand medical checkups at eight more hospitals across the country, so more victims can find out whether their symptoms are linked to the disinfectants. As of now, Asan Medical Center in downtown Seoul is responsible for treating applicants who have reported such health problems.

The current damage reporting system will be revamped to allow victims to file damage complaints year-around. Until now, the reports were received only when the ministry conducted related surveys.

Meanwhile, the prosecution carried on with its probe on the distributors and sellers of the harmful humidifier disinfectants.

On Friday, the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office summoned the former CEOs of Lotte Mart and of Homeplus for questioning, mainly on whether they had conducted safety test on their disputed products. Humidifier disinfectants containing PHMG were on sale at the two wholesale stores in 2004 and 2006 respectively, allegedly causing more than 41 and 28 deaths each.

Since the toxicity of the disinfectant was first reported back in 2011, South Korea has confirmed 221 victims, of which 177 had used Oxy products, produced by Oxy Reckitt Benckiser.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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