Oxy didn’t test its fatal chemical

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Oxy didn’t test its fatal chemical

Reckitt Benckiser Korea did not conduct a toxicity test for a fatal chemical in its Oxy line of humidifier sterilizers, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The prosecution is investigating the cleaning products manufacturer because PHMG (polyhexamethylene guanidine), fatal to humans when inhaled or consumed, in Oxy’s humidifier sterilizers reportedly killed more than 100 people.

Before the Oxy manufacturer started using PHMG in its sterilizers from 2001, it used a different chemical called Preventol R80 in 1995. Prosecutors found that the company received a letter from the German company producing Preventol R80 that read, “In order to use Preventol R80 in humidifier sterilizer, its toxicity in inhalation needs to be tested.”

Prosecutors found that Oxy, which was what the company was called before merging with Britain’s Reckitt Benckiser in 2001, commercialized the sterilizers after determining through tests that the chemical is not toxic when inhaled.

The prosecution sees this as critical evidence because the company did not conduct such a toxicity test before using PHMG.

The company switches from Preventol R80 to PHMG in 2001 after it received reports from consumers that the sterilizers created suspended materials inside the humidifiers when mixed with water.

“We are investigating the key members of the company at the time to find out why it did not conduct an inhalation toxicity test,” said an official in the prosecutors’ office.

Shin Hyun-woo, former CEO of Reckitt Benckiser Korea, a department head and the former head of the manufacturer’s research institute were summoned by prosecutors Tuesday for questioning about the sterilizers.

All three face involuntary manslaughter charges.

Prosecutors found the critical evidence on company computer servers and documents that they seized in February.

Their probe may lead to further charges of manipulation or destruction of evidence for Reckitt Benckiser Korea.

Prosecutors found that the manufacturer spent some 700 to 800 million won ($614,116 to $701,847) producing reports that refute accusations about the company’s sterilizers and their safety.

Reports of mysterious illnesses and deaths received massive media attention in 2011, when the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked pulmonary health problems with chemicals used in humidifier sterilizers.

Reckitt Benckiser Korea conducted its own tests with Seoul National University, Hoseo University, and Korea Conformity Laboratories in an attempt to disprove the government’s tests.

It even requested a multinational consulting company, Gradient, to issue a report saying the tests were reliable, according to the prosecution.

The prosecution found that the company deleted test results from Korea Conformity Laboratories which were allegedly unfavorable.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, LEE YU-JUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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