By David Shaw, ERJ staff
Seoul, Korea - Hankook Tire has confirmed that a number of its Korean employees have died due to unnatural causes in recent months. The company issued a statement saying, "Hankook Tire has been investigating, and continues to investigate, a number of deaths that have occurred to employees from its two plants and R&D center in Korea. Causes of these regrettable deaths are suspected to include cardiovascular diseases and cancer."
The company said rumours that the deaths were linked to chemicals used in the factories were unfounded. Nevertheless, the company has set up a joint task force team working with representatives of the union and government organisations. "In parallel," said the statement, "the Industrial Disease Research Center from the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency has also been working on an epidemiological study."
A week ago, the Korea Times reported that 14 workers at Hankook Tire factories have died unexpectedly over a 18-month period. The report said, "The workers at the tire company's factories in Daejeon and Geumsan, North Chungcheong Province, died suddenly during the period from May 2006 to October 2007. The reasons given were heart disease, lung cancer, accidental death and suicide."
The report went on to say that 7 of the 14 deaths were due to heart failure. Hankook declined to confirm the number of deaths.
The Korean Times quoted fellow employees who blamed the deaths on a chemical used in the production process, described as HV-250, a benzene-free solvent.
Hankook declined to explain where the product is used in the manufacturing process, or to give the chemical name of the solvent, but said it is not being used in the company's factory in Hungary. Hankook added that its, "facilities and employee management practices are in full compliance with all Korean government regulations and are benchmarked against international best practice. " The company continued, saying that if the official studies found any problems with its working practices or environment, then it, "will implement measures to mitigate conditions that might adversely affect employees' health and safety."
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Hankook Tire Blamed in Workers' Deaths Korea Times (Korea) 6 November 2007