|Members of the Special Investigation Commission on Social Disaster announce the results of a study on the physical and mental health of toxic humidifier sterilizer victims during a news conference in Seoul, Thursday. /Yonhap|
Besides physical health problems, victims show long-term anger
By Bahk Eun-ji
Nearly seven out of 10 surviving victims of toxic humidifier disinfectants have been suffering from chronic anger, a government study showed, Thursday.
Their mental health has been deteriorating as much as their physical condition, with more than half of them having a level of anger 2.27 times higher than unaffected people.
The Special Investigation Commission on Humidifier Disinfectant and 4.16 Sewol Ferry Disasters announced the results of the study on the victims' physical, mental and socioeconomic damage. At the request of the commission, the Korean Society of Epidemiology interviewed 100 households selected randomly from 4,127 households of 5,253 family members who the government officially recognized as victims, from October to December.
It is the first in-depth study since the disastrous issue surfaced in 2011 after four pregnant women died of lung problems for unknown reasons.
According to the investigation, 66.3 percent of adult victims showed symptoms of chronic anger, and half of them had anger levels 2.27 times higher than non-victims.
Some 57 percent of the victims said they are suffering from depression and loss of enthusiasm, 55.1 percent said they have a sense of guilt or self-reproach, and 54.3 percent feel anxiety and uneasiness.
More than 27 percent of them said they have had suicidal thoughts, while 11 percent have already attempted suicide. The figures are almost 1.5 and 4.5 times higher than the average, the study noted.
Besides psychological troubles, the victims show various physical health problems not only in their lungs but also other organs. More than 60 percent of adult victims have experienced nonallergic rhinopathy, 53.6 percent suffered from lung diseases such as asthma, pulmonary emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis, 48.8 percent experienced eye diseases, and 29.6 percent showed cardiovascular diseases.
The study estimated the victims have suffered a maximum 54 billion won ($47.6 million) in financial damages, such as losses from a victims' death or medical expenses. But only 28 out of the 100 surveyed households received government compensation and the amount was 14 million won on average.
It took more than a year on average for the people to be recognized as humidifier disinfectant victims after applying to the government. Most of them were not given a proper explanation as to why the process had taken that long.
According to government data, some 6,309 people have been affected by the disinfectants and 1,386 of them died. Civic groups and victims' groups claim the actual number is much higher, saying more diseases should be recognized as caused by the chemicals than the current government criteria acknowledges.
The commission urged the government to recognize the damage more widely so more victims can be helped.
Meanwhile, it has been alleged that SK Chemicals, a subsidiary of SK Group which is now SK Discovery, destroyed evidence on the toxicity of raw materials which the company manufactured for humidifier disinfectants.
SK Chemicals produced key ingredients of disinfectants supplied to Oxy Reckitt Benckiser Korea and Aekyung Industrial.
On Thursday, the Seoul Central District Court reviewed the prosecution's request to issue arrest warrants for four SK Chemicals officials on charges of destruction of evidence.