Gov’t goes on high alert over FMD contamination

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Gov’t goes on high alert over FMD contamination

As the public becomes increasingly alarmed over the environmental impact of the mass culling of animals due to foot-and-mouth disease, the government yesterday issued new measures to contain the damage by assigning civil servants to each disposal site for daily inspections.

Following reports of water and soil contamination at the disposal sites of culled animals, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters said yesterday that it has issued new guidelines to regional governments to survey the sites daily.

Under the new measures, public servants will be assigned to each site for daily inspection and for managing the sites to prevent water and soil contamination. Deputy mayors and governors will be in charge of the sites near drinking water sources or those found to be vulnerable to leaks.

According to the government, 4,429 disposal sites are located around the nation, and over 3.3 million farm animals have been culled since the first outbreak in November. Basic surveys of all sites were already ordered to be completed by the end of this month.

The Ministry of Environment said it had recently conducted inspections at 32 sites located near the upper Han River and found possible leaks or other kinds of contamination in 11 places. The ministry’s survey of 89 sites near the upper Nakdong River in North Gyeongsang last month also found the need for contamination prevention at 22 locations.

Alarmed by the situation, the ministry is looking into further step to minimize environmental hazards. Building underground barrier walls between the disposal sites and rivers is a priority, ministry officials said, although technical details of such construction are being studied.

The project will require the government to spend a significant amount of money. “The Ministry of Environment, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security will jointly come up with the budget to prevent contamination,” said Jeong Eun-hae, the Environment Ministry official in charge of soil and underground water management.

In addition to stepped-up monitoring and reinforcements at the sites, the government also decided to vaccinate all cloven-hoofed farm animals every six months.

Under the regulations of the World Organization for Animal Health, Korea’s status as a disease-free member without the use of vaccines was suspended in November 2010. With the use of vaccinations, FMD-free status can be earned when no outbreak occurs for two years and when tests prove that the virus has not existed in the country for one year.

The government has a goal of completing the second round of FMD vaccinations of all cattle and pigs nationwide by the end of this month.

President Lee Myung-bak said yesterday that the central government and local governments must cooperate to prepare comprehensive countermeasures, and he urged civil servants to calm the public’s worries. According to Kim Hee-jung, Lee’s spokeswoman, the president urged senior aides to tackle the issue seriously, stressing that Korea has the capability to resolve the problem.

The Blue House formed a task force over the weekend to pay more attention to the issue. “We will have more than one meeting every day to see what’s necessary to resolve the situation,” a Blue House official said.

The opposition Democratic Party has made the FMD outbreak a key issue to be addressed at the National Assembly when it resumes its session this month. The DP also demanded that government officials responsible for the mess be reprimanded.

By Ser Myo-ja, Kang Chan-su []
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