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Samsung toxic leak raises further doubts over safety practices

05 March 2013

A toxic gas leak on March 5 at a chemical factory in South Korea left 11 workers hospitalised and forced the evacuation of residents living nearby, local officials said. The incident occurred at a factory in the southeastern industrial city of Gumi, where a hydrochloric acid leak at another factory last September left more than 3,000 people seeking medical treatment.

This leak involved around one litre of chlorine gas and was contained within minutes, a city official told the AFP news agency, adding that it had been caused by a technical fault.

The factory was immediately evacuated, along with residents living close to the facility, while nearby roads were closed.

This follows the February 27 leak of hydrofluoric acid at Samsung Electronics’ main chip making plant in the city of Hwaseong, 43 kilometres southwest of Seoul, where one worker was killed.

The country’s environment ministry has confirmed it will investigate the incident to see if some hydrofluoric acid leaked outside the plant and whether Samsung’s safety facilities are well maintained to protect its workers from toxic chemicals.

The labour ministry has already found “comprehensive problems” in Samsung’s safety systems at the Hwaseong plant. The ministry said on March 3 that a special audit found almost 2,000 instances where Samsung violated the country’s industrial and environmental safety laws.

The ministry plans to impose a Won250m ($0.23m) fine on the company and to take legal action against those responsible for the violations. It will also look into Samsung’s other semiconductor plants and ask the group to set up plans to strengthen its safety standards. Seven people, including three Samsung officials, have been charged with professional negligence in relations to the toxic chemical leak, which killed a contract worker and injured four others in January.

Kwon Oh-hyun, chief executive of Samsung Electronics, said in a statement that Samsung has already corrected about 80% of the violations and will act on the rest as soon as possible. “We have learned a lesson from this accident and we are closely monitoring the safety conditions at all our facilities,” he said. “We will make them the safest and most pleasant working places,” he said. 

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