Half of sterilizer fatalities were under six

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Half of sterilizer fatalities were under six

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Lotte Corporation CEO and former CEO of Lotte Mart Noh Byeong-yong is questioned by reporters before entering the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Thursday. Prosecutors questioned Noh on his involvement with the sales of Lotte’s Wiselect-brand humidifier sterilizer. [NEWSIS]

Recent research on Korea’s humidifier sterilizer scandal determined that more than half of the victims were kids aged 5 or younger and that many victims got sick within one year of using a humidifier sterilizer.

Park Dong-uk, professor of environmental health at Korea National Open University, updated health experts at a seminar hosted at Seoul National University on Thursday. He analyzed case histories of 221 victims confirmed by state-led institutions as first- and second-degree patients, of whom 95 died.

Of the 221 victims, more than half fell ill in 2010 and 2011: 38 in 2010 and 92 in 2011. And more than six out of 10 people who used humidifier sterilizers fell ill within a year: 100 fell ill within six months and 48 within six to 12 months, meaning 66.9 percent of victims fell ill within a year of using humidifier sterilizers.

Park also said that more than half of the 221 victims were children aged 5 or younger.

“I found that 57 percent, or 125, of the 221 victims were five years old or younger,” Park said. He added that among the 95 who died, 63, or 66.3 percent, were age five or younger.

Many of the victims were also expecting mothers.

Park reported that 34 victims were pregnant women - 18 of whom died.

The toxic humidifier sterilizers were known to have sickened or killed people who stayed in their residences a lot, like the elderly, sick, pregnant and very young.

Under Park’s analysis, the number of victims who were pregnant women and kids aged 5 or younger amounts to 159, nearly 72 percent of the total 221 victims.

The number will only get bigger if third- and fourth-degree victims are also included.

As of early last year, a total of 530 people reported themselves to health authorities as victims, of whom 143 died. Health authorities categorize the victims from first to fourth degrees, and say that 221 first- and second-degree victims’ illnesses and deaths were likely caused by humidifier sterilizers.

Another 752 people have reported themselves as humidifier sterilizer victims as of the end of last year, and are waiting to be tested by health authorities.

Park’s research also found that humidifier sterilizer sold by Homeplus contained more than four times the polyhexamethylene guanidine (PHMG) than the Oxy-brand product, which was the market leader and affected the most number of people. He found 1,280 parts-per-million (ppm) of PHMG in Oxy sterilizer, and 6,920 ppm in Homeplus sterilizer.

Prosecutors summoned a former director of Homeplus, Kim Won-hae, for questioning Thursday. According to prosecutors, Homeplus sterilizers sickened 26 people, of whom 11 died.

Prosecutors also summoned Thursday former Lotte Mart CEO and current Lotte Corporation CEO Noh Byeong-yong. Noh, 65, was questioned on whether he conducted proper safety tests on chemicals used in Lotte’s sterilizer product, sold under Lotte Mart’s private brand, Wiselect.

When the Wiselect-brand humidifier sterilizer was launched in 2006, Noh was the sales director of Lotte Mart. He was named CEO of Lotte Mart in 2010, and became the CEO of Lotte Corporation in 2015.

Lotte’s Wiselect-brand humidifier sterilizer sickened 39 people, 15 of whom died, according to the prosecution. It contains PHMG, the same chemical used in Oxy-brand sterilizer that sickened 181, including 73 who died, also according to prosecutors.

BY JEONG JIN-WOO, MOON BYUNG-JOO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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