Hanwha Total accident leaves 300 people suffering health problems


By Park Si-soo

More than 300 people are suffering from severe headaches, nausea, giddiness or other toxic gas-driven health problems after inhaling oil vapor leaked from a Hanwha Total factory in Seosan, South Chucheong Province, on Friday and Saturday.

Many of them feel pain in their eyes, said police and medical staff on Monday. The gas traveled to areas as far away as 30 minutes from the factory by car.

The plant has been shut since the accident. An investigation is under way.

The first leak occurred on Friday afternoon. Video footage shows a huge plume of pinky vapor spewing from an outdoor gas tank. The second leak was reported 15 hours later, according to police. Hanwha said an unintended sharp rise in the tank’s internal temperature may have caused oil residue inside to spew out through a weak part of the tank, according to investigators.

The second leak happened when workers were trying to stabilize the tank by injecting coolant foam.


The leaked gas traveled to areas as far away as 30 minutes from the factory by car. Courtesy of Korea Confederation of Trade Unions

“I’m so scared,” said Kim Joo-ho, a Seosan resident. “I can’t live here securely unless Hanwha and the government come up with measures to keep the same thing from happening again.”

Hanwha Total apologized on Saturday.

“The accident that occurred at the Daesan plant was caused by the rapid rise in the temperature of the storage tank in the factory, causing the leakage of oil vapor inside the tank and problems such as odor,” CEO Kwon Hyuk-woong wrote in a statement.

“We will prepare measures to prevent a recurrence.”

Delayed report?

Hanwha Total Petrochemical is under investigation for its delayed report of a massive oil mist leak at its chemical factory in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province, last week, provincial officials said Monday.

The oil mist leak occurred at the company’s Daesan petrochemical complex in Seosan, 150 kilometers south of Seoul, at 11:45 a.m. last Friday, causing nearly 327 workers and residents to be treated for dizziness and vomiting.

Instead of immediately reporting the accident to the authorities, however, Hanwha Total contacted the Seosan Fire Station at 12:30 p.m., after engaging in its own fire-fighting efforts, the officials said.

Then the company’s report of the accident to Seosan’s municipality was made at around 1:30 p.m., they said, adding heads of nearby villages were notified of the oil mist leak afterwards.

Under the Toxic Chemicals Control Act, chemicals accidents are to be reported to the relevant municipality or fire station immediately.

“The province will investigate whether Hanwha Total violated the Toxic Chemicals Control Act in its delayed report of the accident, together with the Ministry of Environment and the Geum River Basin Environmental Office. It will then take an administrative measure after conducting water and air pollution inspections,” a provincial official said.

The oil mist leaked quickly from the tank, spreading to nearby neighborhoods and carrying an unpleasant odor, according to the fire service and police.

The leak occurred because oil residue in the tank was gasified when the temperature within the tank rose for an unknown reason.



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