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Aekyung blames SK Chemicals for sterilizer

Apr 23,2019
Aekyung Industrial recently sued SK Chemicals for more than 700 million won ($613,000) to put as much distance as possible between it and the fatal humidifier sterilizer that killed and sickened scores across the nation.

During recent questioning by prosecutors reinvestigating the sterilizer scandal, Aekyung executives denied any responsibility for the ill effects of the sterilizer it helped sell, saying the chemical arm of conglomerate SK Group was in charge of formulating and producing the product Humidifier Mate, while Aekyung’s job was simply to package and distribute it.

Former SK Chemicals CEO Hong Ji-ho was arrested last Wednesday night on allegations of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors believe Hong, who led the company from 2000 to 2006, failed to conduct necessary toxicity tests on Humidifier Mate and give suitable warnings about possible dangers prior to the product’s release in 2002.

Humidifier Mate, which was sold from 2002 through 2012, is alleged to have made 128 people sick, chiefly by pulmonary disease, according to a government survey. Some 27 consumers died, according to the report. Humidifier sterilizers sold by Oxy Reckitt Benckiser Korea caused the highest number of people to get sick, 181 people, according to the report, and among that figure, 73 died. The controversial Oxy products were also made by SK Chemicals.

Aekyung’s compensation suit is on top of a complaint that the Ministry of Environment submitted to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on April 12, through which the ministry accused SK Chemicals and its executives for violating the Special Act on Remedy for Damage Caused by Humidifier Disinfectants by attempting to destroy evidence during a raid by ministry officials last year.

Under Article 45 of the act, SK Chemicals executives could face a maximum of one year in prison or 10 million won in fines if found guilty.

The humidifier sterilizer case was reopened last January after the Environment Ministry announced results of an investigation that established the dangers of raw materials chloromethylisothiazolinone (CMIT) and methylisothiazolinone (MIT) substances, which were not proven before. In 2016, when the scandal broke, victims made criminal complaints against SK Chemicals and Aekyung, but authorities dropped the case, citing a lack of evidence that CMIT and MIT were linked to lung damage.


BY JEONG JIN-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]