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Hundreds of South Korean Victims of Toxic Disinfectant File Lawsuit

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More than 400 victims of a toxic disinfectant for humidifiers that was sold in South Korea have filed a lawsuit demanding $9 million in compensation from the manufacturer of the product, distributors and the government.

The Korea Times reports that the plaintiffs include 235 people who suffered lung damage and relatives of 51 people who died after coming into contact with the product, which was produced by Oxy, a local subsidiary of British conglomerate Reckitt Benckiser.

It is believed more people were killed or suffered ill effects from the popular product, which was targeted at families with children using humidifiers in South Korea’s dry climate. It was taken off the market after South Korea’s Center for Disease Control identified a link with lung damage in 2011. Prosecutors last week charged four executives at Oxy with skipping necessary toxicity tests before the product was launched in 2001.

The suit demands compensation — including $45,000 for each of the deceased, and smaller sums for those suffering continuing effects — from a total of 22 companies involved in making and selling the disinfectant, and the authorities.

“Without any grounds, the manufacturers and sellers of the humidifier disinfectants indicated on the labels of their products that the ingredients were safe,” a lawyer told the Korea Times. “The government, which failed to properly conduct safety tests and approve the products through tightly enforced safety regulations, must also take responsibility.”

Reckitt Benckiser — which makes ubiquitous products like Strepsils throat lozenges, Durex condoms and French’s mustard — announced earlier this month the establishment of a compensation fund for those affected in South Korea. The company says it accepts “full responsibility for the role that this product played in these health issues, including deaths,” and that it has improved its product-safety processes.

[Korea Times]

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Write to Simon Lewis at simon_daniel.lewis@timeasia.com