USFK Concedes Legal Breach in Toxin Release

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USFK Concedes Legal Breach in Toxin Release

The United States Forces Korea (USFK) conceded on September 8 that it violated the Korean law as well as its own regulations when it dumped embalming fluid containing formaldehyde into the Han River last February. USFK also pledged to overhaul its existing environmental policy.

Major General Barry Bates, in charge of the U.S. Army's internal probe into the toxin release, held a press conference at the Ministry of National Defense today to announce his findings.

Bates said that a mortuary specialist at the Yongsan Mortuary ordered two of his subordinates to pour approximately 192 sixteen-ounce bottles or 91 liters of embalming fluid down the drain on February 9. He added that USFK did violate Korean, U.S., and USFK environmental governing standards and apologized for the incident.

Bates also noted that one of the employees made a phone call to the supervisor of the mortuary specialist and reported the incident but that the supervisor decided to keep the knowledge of the incident to himself. Disciplinary actions are planned for the mortuary specialist and the mortuary technician.

To prevent any recurrence of the breach, USFK will construct a new collection tank for all chemical and fluid residues in place of the existing septic tank and provide additional training for mortuary employees.

The USFK Commander in Chief, General Thomas Schwartz, has directed a comprehensive review of the entire USFK environmental program to include governing standards, training requirements and compliance procedures and command oversight. USFK is also willing to discuss notification procedures for environmental incidents with the Korean Ministry of Environment.

Meanwhile, Green Korea United (GKU), a civic group and a vocal critic of USFK, said in a statement released today that rather than revealing the truth, USFK's investigation amounted merely to an attempt to soothe public opinion. In particular, GKU said while USFK declared the amount of embalming fluid poured down the drain as 192 bottles, the mortuary specialist told the prosecutors that he released the contents of 480 bottles.

The prosecution today summoned the mortuary specialist, Albert MacFarland, for interrogation.

by Kim Jung-wook

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