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Korea to establish surveillance system in wake of toxic humidifier disinfectant case

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : Sept. 15, 2023 - 16:09

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A press conference for the 12th anniversary of the toxic humidifier sterilizer case is held in front of Seoul Station on Aug. 31. Belongings of the deceased victims from the case are placed at the steps in front of the station. (Yonhap) A press conference for the 12th anniversary of the toxic humidifier sterilizer case is held in front of Seoul Station on Aug. 31. Belongings of the deceased victims from the case are placed at the steps in front of the station. (Yonhap)

Health authorities announced on Friday plans to launch a real-time surveillance system to prevent future health disasters akin to the toxic humidifier disinfectant case, a string of lung disease outbreaks linked to chemicals found in humidifier disinfectants between 2006 and 2011.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced it has allocated 735 million won ($553,000) in the upcoming year's budget to create the Integrated Health Risk Information Management System. The agency said that it has been developing the system through a research project initiated in October 2021.

This system aims to establish real-time monitoring of various health hazards caused by the environment so that the KDCA can respond promptly to health hazard reports.

“In addition, the KDCA will work with the National Assembly to prepare a legal basis for investigating, monitoring and researching when those health hazard cases occur, so that we can be more prompt in dealing with those cases,” the KDCA said.

The toxic humidifier disinfectant case remains one of the country's worst consumer goods disasters. In 2011, consumers began reporting deaths and illnesses allegedly tied to humidifier disinfectants, widely used in households during the winter months. A government-led investigation confirmed the link in February the following year. According to the Ministry of Environment, a total of 7,862 cases, including more than 1,800 deaths, had been reported as of this month.