Lazy and callous

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Lazy and callous

Minister of Environment Yoon Seong-kyu made imprudent remarks regarding the fatal case involving over 140 customers’ deaths from the Oxy brand of humidifier sterilizer. Summoned to Wednesday’s meeting of the National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee, Minister Yoon said he felt deeply responsible for the tragic loss of lives from harmful chemicals contained in the disinfectant, but didn’t apologize in a straightforward manner. His opaque reactions suggest he is of the position that the ministry does not have to take responsibility — or apologize for — the disaster because “there was no effective law at the time and also it is a matter between a manufacturer and victims.”

But Yoon or the ministry has abundant reasons why they must apologize to the public. First of all, the government should have paid keen attention to harmful effects of humidifiers at home even before damages took place. The ministry only cared about the quality of air in multi-use facilities, including the subway. It is a role of the government to find potential problems in advance — even if there is no relevant law — and protect the life the people, no matter what.

The Ministry of Environment has been reluctant to figure out exact causes for the deaths — and slow in helping victims — since 2011 when humidifier sterilizers proved to be the very cause for the deaths and ever since 2013 when the incumbent minister Yoon took office. The ministry didn’t took follow-up measures like additional research and study, saying, “no clear causal relationship was found” even when a disinfectant containing the hazardous CMIT or MIT chemical already led to a number of deaths at the time. The ministry also turned away from other related illnesses than lung injuries.

In particular, Minister Yoon made shocking remarks at an Environment and Labor Committee meeting in 2013 that he does not believe it is right for the government to take responsibility for what the public pays for with their tax money. But in Wednesday’s meeting, he flip-flopped and said. “The ministry is consulting with other ministries to offer financial support for victims.”

In the meantime, a multitude of victims had to live in desperation and pain. Yet the ministry has not investigated how disinfectant and other sanitizers have been sold in the markets over the last five years. We wonder if the ministry really can avert more victims, as it plans to finish the investigation by the end of 2017.

Yoon will become the longest-serving environment minister in October. That’s not a suitable title for a minister who didn’t do his best to protect the public health.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 13, Page 34
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