Skip to main content

Toxic leak in South Korea sickens thousands, ruins crops

By K.J. Kwon, CNN
updated 5:04 AM EDT, Tue October 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An explosion at a chemical plant has left thousands of people with health complaints
  • It has affected hundreds of acres of farmland and thousands of livestock
  • A local farmer says his crops of grapes and rice have been ruined
  • The national government has declared a "special disaster zone" in the area

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- October is supposed to be the busiest month of the year for Lim Chae-ho's vineyards and rice fields in the southern part of South Korea.

In a normal year, the 50-year-old farmer would be in the midst of harvesting the crops he had spent months cultivating. But a toxic leak from an explosion at a chemical plant in the nearby city of Gumi two weeks ago has left him empty handed.

"Grapes and rice crops are withered and cannot be sold," Lim said over the phone.

"All our neighbors are affected," he said. "My neighbor's 60 cows are drooling and their noses are running with snot and blood. They are refusing to eat."

Tiny islands evoke strong emotions
Rapper Psy brings 'Gangnam Style' to U.S.
Thousands attend funeral for Rev. Moon

Thousands of people in the area have been affected by the blast at the chemical factory on September 27, which killed 5 people and injured 18 others at the time.

The exact cause of the explosion, which involved 8 tons of hydrofluoric acid, is still being investigated, according to authorities. But the blast spread toxic vapor from the acid -- which is used for tasks like metal cleaning and rust removal -- across the surrounding area.

In the ensuing days, about 3,200 people have visited hospitals seeking treatment for ailments related to the leak, the city government said Sunday.

The national government on Monday declared a "special disaster zone" around the plant. Around 300 people are being relocated to safer areas.

The health problems people are suffering from include headaches, nausea, sore throats and severe coughs, according to Jung Soo-geun, an official at a local environmental group, Daegu Environmental Movement Association.

He said people in the area were concerned about the possible long-term effects of the toxic vapor on their bodies.

"I visited the site several times and ended up getting a sore throat as well," Jung said.

The chemical leak has affected at least 3,200 livestock, damaged more than 1,000 vehicles and caused about $16 million worth of damage to companies in the area, according to the city government. It has spread across about 230 hectares (570 acres) of farmland, the equivalent of roughly 430 American football fields.

But the chemicals have not contaminated the local water system, the city government said.

To help deal with the situation, the national government has said it will offer financing for recovery efforts by local authorities. It will also provide compensation and insurance payments, as well as tax cuts, to residents and companies affected by the disaster.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 2:18 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT