A humidifier disinfectant (HD) is a sanitizer that prevents the growth of micro-organisms that circulate into the air through a water vaporizer. In 1994, the disinfectant ‘Humidifier Mate’ was released in Korea. Since then, more than 40 products have been released through benchmarking methods. Because of this, HDs have been widely used in homes and offices since the 2000s. The problem is that the companies that sold HDs emphasized harmlessness, even without testing the product’s safety.
Many problems have arisen for citizens who have been steadily exposed to humidifier disinfectants. In 2011, many pregnant women showing symptoms of unknown lung disease were hospitalized in the emergency room and respiratory department of Asan Medical Center. Doctors asked the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Agency to conduct an epidemiological investigation believing that patients may have causes other than bacterial infections. In August of that year, the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Agency announced an interim survey. The product was not recalled because there was no clear causal relationship.
However, from November of that year, six products began to be recalled based on epidemiological investigations and animal inhalation experiments. Even though officials in the case were able to reduce the number of victims, 1,740 people were reportedly killed, and 5,902 people were injured because appropriate measures were not taken in a timely manner.
Furthermore, the government and businesses have been criticized for insufficient and unethical responses. SK Chemicals submitted a report to the Ministry of Environment in 1996 on the manufacture of PHMG, a raw material for disinfectants. The report said inhalation could be harmful, but the government did not request additional toxic data.
The first agreement on the humidifier disinfectant disaster began to be outlined in 11 years. In March 2022, subsidies were provided according to the deceased’s age. In addition, a mediation plan was drawn for the age of the most severe high-rise victims. However, in April 2022, Aekyung and Oxy were undecided, and finally, the process was suspended. And much more attention is needed from society and businesses to prevent this social disaster from happening any more.