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Koreans worry about safety after toxic factory leak

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“Since hydrofluoric gas is classified as toxic material, companies handling such materials are obliged to have accident contingency plans prepared in advance. In the Hube Global case this obligation was not well kept,” says Kim Jeong-soo, deputy director of the nonprofit Citizens' Institute for Environmental Studies.

Slow response

Eleven days after the accident, residents were evacuated. The following day, the national government declared the area an official disaster zone. And more than a month and a half later, an investigation is ongoing, and the 300-some residents who were evacuated are still living in community centers.

The slow government response comes at a time when South Koreans are seriously questioning the safety and the reliability of those entrusted to maintain industrial safety standards. After a series of malfunctions and allegations of corruption, public trust is at a low when it comes to the country’s nuclear power plants. Many are anxious about industrial accidents, in part because of the lack of trust in public officials.

Five workers died in the explosion at the Hube Global Factory and 3,000 people sought medical treatment for symptoms associated with the toxic spill, according to the Gumi government and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement.

The explosion was caused by a leak in a gas tank. A government investigation found that some 122 hectares of crops were ruined, to the tune of 9.27 billion won ($8.5 million), and nearby factories lost some 17.7 billion won ($15.9 million). 

“The government says we can come here, but we can’t eat the fruit. They say the gas is on the crops, but it isn’t in the air, in the earth, or the water. It’s very illogical,” says Hong Jin-pyo, a local farmer who was evacuated to a community center indefinitely along with Kim and her family.

Not a new problem

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