Now the real work beginsThe consumer scare regarding chemicals in everyday household goods is spreading fast. Since the probe into killer humidifier sterilizers, consumers have become skeptical and anxious of all consumer products from anti-odor sprays to mouth cleaners. Housewives are throwing away products containing questionable chemicals and studying labels. The public remains unconvinced of the genuineness of Reckitt Benckiser Korea, the maker of the Oxy line of humidifier sterilizers that killed scores of people, even after its CEO arrived in Daejeon to deliver a belated personal apology to a group of victims and families.
But the local government is strangely calm about the issue. The minister of environment claims the government could not respond at the time when the health ministry ordered a recall on humidifier sterilizers, linking them to lung ailments in 2011, because there were no adequate regulations. The industry and health ministries say the case is out of their jurisdiction. How can government offices toss around responsibility when public health and safety are at stake? Recent cabinet meetings on social affairs, chaired by the deputy prime minister on society, underscore how poorly the government comprehends and addresses the threat from biocides in everyday household consumer products. Instead of coming up with effective measures, the cabinet idly discussed the scrutiny of foreign species. Environment Minister Yoon Seong-kyu spoke on the issue by way of a video conference call from Sejong administrative municipality with the rest of the cabinet.
Chemicals are indispensable in everyday modern lives. Before people were known to have been sickened and killed through the daily inhalation of toxic chemical substances from humidifiers, we did not realize that biocides take up 30 percent to 40 percent of everyday chemical substances. The government has failed to inform the public of this threat. Companies abused the lax regulations and supervision for profit. Authorities also paid little attention to the global trend. The European Union has been regulating biocides since 1998, supervising them under different groups. For instance, chloroethane is strictly prohibited in any compressed aerosol flammable gas. The damage is done, but the work to prevent further damages must be carried out immediately. The government should first of all unify biocide supervisory and regulatory offices. The act on evaluating chemical substances full of loopholes also must be fixed. It does not make sense to exempt companies from toxicity safety tests because they manufacture, import or product a certain amount. Regulations must be strengthened, not eased. The government must demonstrate the will and resolution to show it makes public interest its priority.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 21, Page 26