A Seoul court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a 45-year-old man who requested state subsidy for a nerve disorder he reportedly suffered from exposure to hydrofluoric acid at Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor plant.
In May 2012, the man, surnamed Yoon, an employee of a Samsung Electronics’ subcontractor, did not wear protective equipment including gloves when he was connecting pipes in a wastewater disposal facility in Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province.
His hands and feet were exposed to wastewater containing hydrofluoric acid for about 30 minutes, according to the ruling.
Yoon was diagnosed with a nerve disorder caused by the toxic substance in January 2013 and applied for state subsidy from the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service.
The state agency, however, rejected his application, saying that his skin did not show particular symptoms right after the incident and that his colleagues did not show symptoms of nerve disorders. The agency also claimed that some of Yoon’s symptoms may have been caused by a herniated disk.
Lee Sang-deok, judge of the Seoul Administrative Court, said in the ruling that one may not immediately have burns from hydrofluoric acid and individuals may react differently to such exposure.
The judge said, “A large amount of hydrofluoric acid ions were found in the sneakers Yoo as wearing during the incident.”
According to Purdue University’s standard operating procedure for handling hydrofluoric acid (HF), symptoms of exposure to the toxic chemical may not show immediately.
“HF interferes with nerve function, meaning that burns may not initially be painful,” said the document. “Accidental exposures can go unnoticed, delaying treatment and increasing the extent and seriousness of the injury.”
Hydrofluoric acid is widely used in the semiconductor industry.
In January of last year, the chemical was leaked at Samsung’s Hwaseong plant, killing an employee of a subcontractor and injuring four. A leakage took place again in May of the same year, causing three injuries.