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34 indicted in humidifier disinfectant scandal

July 24,2019
The prosecution said Tuesday it has indicted 34 people, including former company executives, for manufacturing and selling humidifier disinfectants containing toxic chemicals, wrapping up eight months of reinvestigation into one of Korea’s worst scandals involving consumer products.

The reinvestigation came after a 2011 scandal involving toxic humidifier disinfectants sold by Oxy Reckitt Benckiser rattled the nation, leaving more than 100 people dead from lung problems.

Following the latest investigation, Hong Ji-ho, former president of SK Chemicals, and seven people were arrested, and 26 others, including a government official, were indicted without detention, according to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

Since late November, prosecutors have been looking into SK Chemicals and Aekyung Industrial for allegedly manufacturing and selling humidifier sterilizers using toxic chemicals without informing consumers of possible health hazards.

E-mart was also under a probe for selling private brand products after buying humidifier disinfectants from Aekyung Industrial.

The chemicals under scrutiny were chloromethylisothiazolinone (CMIT) and methylisothiazolinone (MIT), the hazardousness of which later came to light as more studies proving their health risks were released.

After prosecutors’ 2016 probe, officials at Oxy, Lotte Mart and Homeplus were indicted for manufacturing or selling humidifier disinfectants containing the hazardous chemical polyhexamethylene guanidine (PHMG).

Prosecutors’ reinvestigation has gained traction since the environment ministry submitted related data and studies to the prosecution in November last year.

The humidifier disinfectant scandal, one of the country’s worst ever, involving chemical consumer products, came into the spotlight after four pregnant women died of lung problems in 2011.

A government-led probe later confirmed a correlation between the victims’ health problems and the chemicals used to clean household humidifiers.