[Editorial] Government should refuse US demands to ease regulations on harmful chemicals

Posted on : 2017-10-10 18:14 KST Modified on : 2017-10-10 18:14 KST
Kim Mi-ran speaks at a press conference honoring her late father in front of the National Assembly building in Seoul. Kim’s father
Kim Mi-ran speaks at a press conference honoring her late father in front of the National Assembly building in Seoul. Kim’s father

The US is apparently pressing the South Korean government to relax regulations on chloromethylisothiazolinone (CMIT) and methylisothiazolinone (MIT) compounds used in humidifier disinfectant. Combined with the concurrent pressure to revise the KORUS FTA, the concern is that this is part of an all-out trade-related offensive from Washington. It’s hard to fathom this kind of action from the US, which cannot be unaware that many South Koreans were injured and killed as a result of using humidifier disinfectant. This is a moment that calls for impartial action from Seoul.

As part of its response measures to the disinfectant tragedy, the government has banned the use of those ingredients in all sprays and air fresheners. Given the serious nature of what happened, this makes complete sense. Yet the US continues raising objections and has taken the issue to the World Trade Organization (WTO). It’s also reportedly demanding the allowance of “preservative uses” and scientific data to demonstrate harmfulness.

Even in the US, these substances are classified as industrial pesticides and designated as a Class II inhalation hazards. In their case, it is up to the industries to manage them independently. If the US government is adopting an approach of “Why regulate these things when we allow them?” it is the wrong one. Around 1,000 South Koreans died after using humidifier disinfectant, while another 4,000 or so were sickened. The President acknowledged the government’s fault, and even apologized to victims and their family members. It is illogical under the circumstances to apply the same standard used in the US, and the South Korean public would never accept it.

It’s also not practical to demand scientific evidence of the compounds’ harmfulness ahead of any regulations. Toxicity studies on the substances are already under way in South Korea. It’s a situation where we would be hard-pressed to come up with any immediate concrete data on how hazardous a given substance is. Yet the failure to provide scientific evidence of harmfulness is no guarantee of safety. When people are dying, it makes no sense to say we shouldn’t regulate something because there is no data to prove its harmfulness.

It’s possible the US may try to use this issue to meddle with chemical regulations in general. Indeed, it is also taking issue with various other chemical regulations currently undergoing National Assembly legislative procedures. Fortunately for now, the government is insisting that these are “unavoidable minimal measures to protect the public’s health.” It should also be stressed that it is the WTO norm to allow trade regulations to protect safety and public health. As a matter that affects the public’s lives, this calls for assertive and responsible action.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles