SEOUL/HWASEONG, Feb. 15 (Yonhap) — Hydrofluoric acid was discharged from a Samsung Electronics Co. chip plant into the environment following a fatal leakage last month, police said Friday, in stark contrast to the company’s earlier announcement that the situation had been contained.
Up to 10 liters of diluted hydrofluoric acid, a colorless acute poison that can damage the lungs and bones, and even affect the nervous system, leaked from one of the pipes at the main semiconductor plant in Hwaseong, 60 kilometers south of Seoul, on Jan. 28, killing one worker and injuring four others.
“Hydrofluoric acid has been leaked outside of the chip plant after an analysis of CCTV footage taken inside the Central Chemical Supply System (CCSS) of the chip plant,” Song Byung-sun of the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency leading the investigation said.
Three to four maintenance crew members from the STI Service, Samsung’s subcontractor, discharged hydrofluoric acid using a huge ventilator inside the CCSS, Song said, citing the CCTV footage.
However, the world’s largest memory chip marker released a statement following the incident, saying that there was no possibility of the fatal gas being released from the plant and that the situation was contained.
Police said they are reviewing whether Samsung violated the law as there is a clause in the Clean Air Conservation Act that allows discharging such contaminated material without using discharge facilities or other facilities in emergency situations.
Meanwhile, a special probe by the Ministry of Environment and the provincial government of Gyeonggi, to which Hwaseong belongs, has been launched into the incident, a ministry official said Friday.
The investigation will focus on whether Samsung properly managed and monitored chemical substances, the official said, adding that the probe will cover the entire Hwaseong plant.
Police said they are not ruling out the possibility that some of the tens of thousands of residents living inside a radius of 2 kilometers of the Hwaseong plant have been partially affected by the gas.
On Thursday, a local environment group claimed that the concentration of hydrofluoric acid detected in the radius of 2 kilometers of the plant has exceeded the standard level, contradicting an earlier probe conducted by a state-run think tank.
Since the incident, Samsung has been under intense fire for not only failing to report the incident to the authorities promptly but also for the alleged cover-up.
A fine of up to 1 million won (US$923) has already been imposed on Samsung and STI Service for belatedly reporting the incident to local authorities until after one of the crew members died at a hospital from apparent prolonged exposure to toxic gas.