The controversy over reported workplace hazard at a Samsung Electronics semiconductors plant that may have led employees to contract leukemia has been rising following the disclosure of an internal “environmental handbook” showing the use of six types of carcinogenic materials and more than 40 types of dangerous irritants.
For Issue No. 811 to be released Monday, the magazine Hankyoreh 21 obtained a copy of the notebook, which was provided to engineers in charge of process management at the Samsung semiconductor factory in Giheung. Some 50 types of chemicals and gases appearing on the list of “Factors Influencing the Environment for the Different Processes” were analyzed for harmfulness by a team of experts, including Seoul National University Graduate School of Public Health Professor Yoon Chung-sik and Catholic University of Daegu Industrial Health Professor Choi Sang-joon. The notebook in question was classified as top secret, and distribution outside the company was prohibited.
According to the analysis, a total of six carcinogenic materials were used in the semiconductor plant, namely trichloroethylene, thinner, sensitizing solution, dimethylacetamide, arsine (AsH3) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4).
Trichloroethylene, which was used in the washing and etching process, can cause diseases such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal cancer and breast cancer. Choi said, “Trichloroethylene is a substance that Samsung currently claims not to use.” Dimethylacetamide, also used in the washing and etching process, is carcinogenic and causes sterility, spontaneous abortion and respiratory organ impairment. Hwang Yu-mi, who passed away from acute leukemia in March 2007 at the age of 23 after working in the third line at the Giheung plant, was tasked with washing work.
Sensitizing solution, which is used in the ‘photography’ process, contains dichromates and benzene, both carcinogens. Dichromates cause an allergic reaction when they come in contact with the skin and lead to asthma and breathing difficulties. Benzene is a major carcinogen that causes diseases such as leukemia. When inhaled, it leads to drowsiness and dizziness.
The environmental handbook also confirmed use of some 40 types of irritants such as hydroquinone and methane that can cause menstrual irregularity, sterility, insomnia and dementia.
To date, forty-seven people have requested assistance from semiconductor worker’s health and human rights watchdog Banollim, claiming to have contracted cancer or rare ailments after working at the Samsung semiconductor and LCD plants.
Industrial medicine specialist Gong-Yu Jeong-ok said, “We have seen previously healthy young people with no family history of disease contracting cancer, and if it has been confirmed that the factory where they worked uses all of these different kinds of carcinogenic materials, there is a strong chance these are occupational diseases.”
While acknowledging the existence of the handbook, Samsung denied any possibility that its workers were exposed to harmful chemicals. A public relations official for Samsung Electronics said the environmental notebook was provided to those who completed certification training for handling chemicals and explained, “There are double and triple safety measures in place at the semiconductor plant to prevent any leakage of chemicals, so workers are not being exposed to them.”
But an individual identified by the surname Kim who quit a job as an engineer at the Giheung plant said, “Because employees are forced to compete for productivity, there was no choice but to disable the interlock safety device, which is unnecessary and slows down the work rate.” Kim added, “They disabled dozens of interlocks on average each day, exempting only those absolutely fatal to safety.”
Another engineer who worked for more than a decade at the Giheung plant said, “When I was working there, there were quite a number of organic solvent and gas leak incidents.”
Original article in Hangyoreh: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/421106.html