Tremolite Contamination in South Korea
At a press conference held at the Seoul headquarters of the Korean Federation of the Environmental Movement on Monday, February 9, 2009, the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO) announced the results of field surveys which discovered high levels of environmental asbestos pollution.1
Tremolite asbestos was found by researchers in a populated area in close proximity to a redundant asbestos mine in Susan county, Jecheon City, Chung-Cheong Buk Province.2 The highly toxic substance was identified in the surface soil of agricultural fields and on a school sport's ground.
Among 11 soil samples tested, 10 had tremolite and 1 had both tremolite and actinolite, another type of asbestos.3 Of the 15 rock samples analyzed, 12 were tremolite and 1 was anthophyllite, another type of asbestos.4
On February 11 BANKO researchers returned to the test site to begin a medical survey of local people. Five former mine workers underwent CT tests; two, who had worked in the mine for more than 10 years, were found to have asbestosis and pleural plaques, one had inactive pulmonary tuberculosis, one had emphysema and one was normal. BANKO staff, who are following up on these results, are calling on the government to provide the resources needed to quantify the situation and to remediate the problems.
February 19, 2009
1 The use of all types of asbestos was banned in Korea as of January 2009.
2 Tremolite is one of the three forms of asbestos which were used commercially. Chung-Cheong Buk province is a mountainous region which is located in the middle of the Korean peninsula. Records show that 7 asbestos mines existed in Jecheon City at one time or other. According to academic Ye-Yong Choi, local people did not use the term asbestos, but instead spoke of earth skin or oil on the rock.
3 The samples were analyzed by photoluminescence microscopy (PLM) and field emission scanned electron microscopy (FE-SEM) and then by energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS).