Overhaul disaster response system

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Overhaul disaster response system

The government has designated an area affected by a massive gas leak from the Gumi National Industrial Complex in Gumi, North Gyeongsang, as a special disaster zone. The decision was made in response to snowballing damage to people and farms near the leak site. The government’s slow response again underscored poor administrative disaster management. It only held a vice-ministerial meeting on the accident last Thursday, one week after the incident occurred.

In the meantime, more people fell ill from exposure to the hydrofluoric acid, a toxic chemical that can lead to blindness and damages the lungs, bones and nervous system. Hundreds hectares of farmlands and orchards were damaged and thousands of livestock fell ill. The local authorities failed to evacuate the residents on time and alert the government of assistance and emergency measures.

Their lax response exposes how at risk our public safety truly is. The government must investigate and punish the Korea Occupational and Health Agency in charge of overseeing safety at industrial sites for failing to prevent the leak at the Hube Global plant. The gas explosion from a tanker truck immediately killed five workers and injured 18 others. The local and central government also should apologize and provide due compensation to the residents.

It is imperative to re-examine the industrial areas and facilities dealing with these toxic elements. The affected industrial complex is not far from residential neighborhoods.

Most of the 172 industrial tenants of the Gumi National Industrial Complex are in the petrochemical business. In the southern industrial district of Incheon, 140 companies work with toxic chemicals.

But the problem is that these industrial sites are close to residential neighborhoods and roads. Local administrative offices should conduct thorough safety checkups. Industrial safety authorities also should reinforce safety management measures and control of toxic industrial sites.

What should also be revamped is the country’s disaster management system. Disasters in petrochemical industrial sites are regulated by more than 80 pieces of legislation, falling under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment and local governments and fire departments.

The complex and scattered administrative system hampers the effective and immediate response to disasters. We need more coordinated and unified control measures to mitigate and respond to industrial accidents and natural disasters.

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