SEOUL, Jul. 26 (Korea Bizwire) — Massive oil mist leaks from a factory of Hanwha Total Petrochemical in central South Korea in May were caused by the company’s failure to abide by safety procedures and a walkout of skilled employees, a joint government-private investigation team said Friday.
The announcement came after two oil mist leaks at Hanwha Total Petrochemical’s plant in the Daesan Petrochemical Complex in Seosan, a South Chungcheong Province city 150 kilometers south of Seoul, on May 17 and 18.
Following the leak incidents, a total of 202 company employees and nearby residents underwent hospital treatment for symptoms, including dizziness, vomiting and eye pain.
Hanwha Total Petrochemical is an affiliate of Hanwha Group that manufactures chemical materials needed to make various consumer products.
The joint investigation team consisting of civilian experts and officials from the environment and labor ministries, South Chungcheong provincial government and Seosan municipality said that 94.1 tons of styrene monomer (SM), a chemical used for the production of Styrofoam, plastic and synthetic rubber, were leaked on May 17 and an additional 3.4 tons on May 18.
It estimated the maximum spread range of SM at 2,800 meters on May 17 and 607 meters on May 18.
The investigation team said the company failed to follow due safety procedures in its in-house transfer of SM, while skilled employees in charge of handling SM walked out and were replaced by inexperienced substitute workers at the time of the leak incidents.
According to provincial officials, hotels, restaurants, salt fields and other regional institutions have so far reported 56 cases of property damage from the leak incidents and the issue of compensation is now being discussed.
The Ministry of Environment, which asked prosecutors on June 13 to investigate Hanwha Total Petrochemical over its delayed report of the chemical leaks in violation of the Toxic Chemicals Control Act, said it will additionally ask for a probe into the company’s suspected emission of air pollutants through a secret exhaust pipe.
The government of South Chungcheong Province has also asked prosecutors to investigate the Hanwha company’s suspected installation of a secret exhaust pipe and other illicit emissions of air pollutants, while the municipality of Seosan has ordered the company to conduct a soil pollution survey in the areas surrounding its Daesan factory.
Meanwhile, Hanwha Total Petrochemical’s plant in the Daesan complex was hit by lightning amid downpours in the region at 9:32 a.m. Friday, resulting in a power outage and the suspension of some of its production facilities.
Company officials said a steel tower, which provides electricity to its Daesan plant, was hit by lightning, causing a sudden power failure.
The supply of electric power resumed one hour later, but company officials said it will take two to three days to normalize the suspended production facilities.