Hankook Employees Named as Chemical Victims, says Korea Times
The Korea Times reports that four Hankook Tire employees have been named victims of a chemical used at a company facility between 1999 and 2003. In an article titled ‘Hankook Tire Cornered’, the South Korean English-language daily says that the government’s acknowledgement, according to lawmakers, shows a “possible relation between the solvent HV-250, a non-benzene compound, and the workers’ health.”
One of the victims is said to have contracted peripheral neuropathy after he was exposed to the solvent, stated the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency on October 13. The agency said another 48 year-old worker’s acute leukemia seems to have also been caused by his 20 years of being exposed to a solvent the company previously used. This particular substance formerly contained benzene.
The acknowledgement, says the Korea Times, is in line with allegations that 13 workers have died due to exposure to toxic chemicals used in the production process in the tyre factory in just 17 months. Hankook has previously said heavy workload or severe stress could have caused the deaths, but denied the possibility of chemical involvement. South Korea’s Ministry of Labour has also not confirmed the relationship, but this latest revelation verifies it, say relatives of the deceased workers. These family members have also voiced suspicion over “rubber fumes,” fine dust released during the rubber manufacturing process.
Moreover, reports the newspaper, some have alleged the company refused to undertake any additional safety inspections, saying such inspections would interfere in its business. Hong Hee-deok of South Korea’s Democratic Labour Party is reported to have said the company attempted to play down the issue by limiting the causes to personal health management, and has also allegedly collected personal information from the bereaved families. Hong raised suspicions that the company’s executive vice president Cho Hyun-bum, a son-in-law of South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, contributed to such a “downplay”, to quote the paper. He also said as long as Lee has another son working at the company, the case would never have to face the “truth.”
Hankook, however, denies all allegations. The article reports company spokesman Lee Kyung-tae as saying collecting personal data from bereaved families and the deceased was just for compensation purposes as well as funeral arrangements. Hankook did not try to cover up the case during inspections nor try to manipulate it, added Lee.
The spokesman also said the company head’s personal link with the president would never affect the result. He said the direct relationship between the rubber fumes and the human body is yet to be confirmed, but the company will be conducting in depth research on ways to improve its working environment.