Assembly Committee Addresses Humidifier Disinfectant Issue which Claimed 143 Lives

Ben Cho, Sept. 21, 2016, 10:41 a.m.

The special parliamentary committee looking into humidifier disinfectant deaths began a three-day visit to the UK on Tuesday to meet representatives of one of the main companies in question and other relevant officials. The committee, tasked with seeking compensation and uncovering the causes and development of the tragedy that claimed at least 143 lives, includes Chairman Rep. Woo Won-shik of the main opposition The Minjoo Party of Korea, as well as Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the ruling Saenuri Party, Rep. Jung Choun-sook of the Minjoo Party and Rep. Kim Sam-hwa of the People’s Party.

Their first schedule involved visiting a group of victims’ relatives who were holding a protest near Downing Street in London, where the UK Prime Minister’s Office is located. Their next schedule involved visiting the Reckitt Benckiser headquarters and talking with the CEO Rakesh Kapoor on Wednesday.

“We will make sure to get an apology from RB. RB has maintained that it has not been aware of the situation that was the responsibility of its (Korean headquarters), but a number of data and hearings have shown that the headquarters had actually been involved and were at the forefront of all developments, including tests,” said Woo. He added that he brought all the necessary evidence with his team.

In May, former CEOs and officials at Oxy Reckitt Benckiser -- formally renamed Reckitt Benckiser Korea in 2014 -- were arrested by the prosecution and fined for falsely advertising their product as “safe for humans.”

The humidifier case first came to light in August 2011 after four pregnant women died of lung failure. A government-led investigation found that chemicals used to clean humidifiers were to blame. The authorities confirmed 221 victims, 95 of whom died, after using the products made by several consumer goods companies, including largely Oxy.

RB Korea announced in July that it would provide up to 350 million won ($315,000) in compensation to each Korean victim of its lethal humidifier sanitizers. Under the final plan, Oxy will compensate victims at least 150 million won if they were categorized by the government investigation as classes 1 or 2, meaning that it is highly likely that exposure to Oxy’s products led to their deaths.

Compensation of 1 billion won will be given for infant and child victims’ deaths due to the seriousness of the related suffering and difficulty in calculating potential earning losses, the company had said.

The final plan does not address the victims’ previous demands for compensation packages for victims classified under categories 3 and 4, whose suffering was deemed less directly related to humidifier sanitizers.

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