Samsung chemicals linked to worker death
A South Korean court has said studies conducted to evaluate safety at Samsung chip factories failed to fully examine workplace health hazards, undermining the company's efforts to distance itself from claims that its manufacturing plants caused fatal cancers.
The finding by the Seoul Administrative Court was part of a ruling in the case of a Samsung Electronics Co. worker who died of leukaemia in 2009 at the age of 29. A panel of three judges said on Friday that a "considerable causal relationship" existed between Kim Kyung-mi's leukaemia and her five years of work at a Samsung memory chip factory, dipping computer components in chemicals.
The court ordered the Korea Workers' Compensations & Welfare Service, a government agency, to pay compensation to Kim's family.
The judges said Kim must have been exposed to more toxic chemicals than safety studies had previously reported existing at Samsung's factories. Samsung has cited studies that found no dangerous level of benzene, formaldehyde or other carcinogens to ease public concerns about workplace hazards. However, the judges said that the studies did not evaluate exposure to chemicals during maintenance work, blackouts, gas leaks or other incidents when the level of toxic gas goes up sharply.
The latest ruling is the second case in South Korea in which a court has recognised a link between leukaemia and working conditions at Samsung memory chip factories. Kim worked at Samsung's chip factory in Giheung between 1999 and 2004 on "Line 2", which was one of the three oldest chip manufacturing lines at Samsung. The two other workers who died of leukaemia and won compensation from the government agency worked on these three lines, all of which were built during the 1980s.
The judges said there was a "high probability" that benzene, formaldehyde or other leukaemia-causing materials were contained in the chemicals Kim used, or created during the manufacturing process. But it said it was not possible to further determine Kim's exposure to carcinogens partly because Samsung hadn't cooperated. "Samsung Electronics, which did not preserve information of chemical materials used during Kim's work and did not disclose some data citing trade secrets, is partly a cause," the ruling said.
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