Closed Mines to Undergo Asbestos Inspections

Korea–On Monday, the Korean Ministry of Environment said that it will inspect the level of asbestos in the soil, water, and surrounding areas in villages near 22 closed mines nationwide by April next year.

The surrounding areas are defined as being within 4 kilometers of the mines. Health checks will also be conducted by the ministry on residents and former miners. Facilities where asbestos was stored will also be subject to examination. This will remain ongoing until 2012.

This decision to inspect the severity of the asbestos came after several residents of Hongseong and Boryeon, in South Chuncheong Province, have become ill due to asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is a well known carcinogen which, once inhaled, becomes inescapable in the organs’ outer linings. Exposure leads to various asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, that may not show symptoms until decades later.

Various reports pointed to evidence that a significant amount of asbestos was present in the earth, rocks and water in the regions, and that residents were unaware of possible harm from contamination.

Environment Minister Lee Maan-ee visited the locations and promised to look for ways to help the patients’ suffering. Authorities brought soil from other non-contaminated regions to cover and improve the earth there.

There have been several recent incidents involving the poison—talcum powder which contained asbestos, toxic blue asbestos detected at the reconstruction site of the former headquarters building of Samsung, and now this—which have raised public concern and awareness.

Cho Han-yong of the Korea Asbestos Environment Association said, “Japan and some other countries have acknowledged the lethality of asbestos and started compensating those exposed to it unintentionally. The test results should lead to long-awaited compensation and increased awareness.”

Chungcheong environmental groups have had several suspicions that more people have been affected by the deadly substance, which the government has classified as a class A carcinogen.