Asbestos Truth and Consequences in Korea
Asbestos was widely used in Korea throughout the twentieth century. As a consequence, the discovery announced on October 13, 2009 that more than half of the capital's buildings were contaminated with asbestos should come as no surprise. Lawmaker Cho Jung-sik of the Democratic Party reported that a random inspection of 66 buildings in Seoul carried out at the behest of the Metropolitan Government found that 34 (52%) contained asbestos.1 The majority (80%) of the affected buildings, which included health, educational and cultural facilities, were built in the 1980s; only 30% of the contaminated buildings were constructed after 2000.
The confirmation of the asbestos hazard in the capital's built environment has further exacerbated the national disquiet over asbestos, an issue which exploded onto the public consciousness earlier this year with the discovery of asbestos contamination of baby powder sold throughout the country.2 As a result of the public furore and intense media coverage which ensued, asbestos became a hot topic in Korea. To address public concerns, at the beginning of this month civic authorities announced new plans to tackle the fallout from the demolition of asbestos-riddled buildings in Seoul.3 An advisory group, made up of experts and citizens, will be set up to oversee the decontamination of buildings listed for demolition and the safe disposal of hazardous waste. Procedures to ensure compliance with new asbestos safeguards have been mandated, which include asbestos audits of buildings scheduled for demolition and the appointment of supervisors to oversee working practices. Air monitoring will be carried out in the vicinity of worksites by the authorities to ensure compliance.
October 25, 2009
1 Asbestos Found in Half of Seoul Buildings. October 13, 2009.
2 Han J. Regulations on Asbestos Will Be Tightened. July 21, 2009.http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2009/07/113_48849.html
3 Sang-ho S. Seoul Strives to Ease Worries over Asbestos. October 6, 2009.