Parliamentary probe into sterilizers commences

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Parliamentary probe into sterilizers commences

A parliamentary probe into the humidifier sterilizer scandal to investigate and question the sterilizer manufacturers and government bodies commences today.

The National Assembly passed the parliamentary investigation plan on Wednesday under a unanimous vote by 250 lawmakers present. The special committee on humidifier sterilizer, chaired by Rep. Woo Won-shik of the Minjoo Party of Korea, will complete the probe by Oct. 4.

The committee will hold hearings, receive reports from manufacturers and government agencies and visit sites from July through September in order to determine the parties responsible and whether any of them had tried to conceal evidence.

The probe will investigate 11 state bodies including the Ministry of Environment and its Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute, Ministry of Health and Welfare and Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A total of 17 sterilizer and chemical manufacturers including Oxy Reckitt Benckiser, Aekyung, Lotte Shopping, Homeplus, Emart, Costco Wholesale Corporation and SK Chemical will also be investigated.

According to two epidemiological surveys by health authorities, fatal chemicals in humidifier sterilizers killed at least 95 individuals and more than 3,000 people have applied as victims to the state-led tests.

The special committee will also deliver an analysis on whether the current government compensation policy toward victims is adequate.

Victims are currently ranked on a scale from one to four based on how much the government deems their pulmonary fibrosis or illness to have been caused by the humidifier sterilizers. The government and sterilizer manufacturers provide medical assistance only to first- and second-degree victims. With 309 out of 530 cases determined by health authorities to be third- and fourth-degree victims in the first two rounds of epidemiological tests, more than half the victims are not receiving any help from the government or manufacturers.

Some Minjoo Party lawmakers of the special committee also proposed that the parliamentary probe question the prosecution and Ministry of Justice for their delay in initiating investigations, but Saenuri Party members of the committee opposed the idea.

BY JUNG HYO-SIK, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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