Asbestos Profile: South Korea 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Prior to banning asbestos in 2009, Korean companies had been engaged in the manufacture and export of asbestos-containing textiles and products using imported asbestos [Asbestos Activism in Korea]. Asbestos mines, which had begun operations under Japanese control in 1935, had ceased functioning decades before leaving heavily contaminated sites and widespread pollution in their wake [Tremolite Contamination in South Korea] [Hyundai Steel: A Corporate Criminal] [Victory for Activists in Korea] [Killing the Future: Asbestos Use in Asia (page 18)] [Asian Asbestos Conference 2009 (page 15)]. The country’s widespread use of asbestos created a deadly legacy of contamination throughout the built environment [Asbestos Truth and Consequences in Korea] [Asbestos Contaminated Icicles in Korea] [Korean Asbestos Ban: The First Step].

Occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos resulted in an invisible epidemic of disease and death. Sustained and organized efforts by asbestos victims and their supporters in Seoul, Busan and other asbestos hotspots brought this injustice to national attention and resulted in positive change, including better healthcare and financial support for the injured [Tackling Asbestos Injustice in Korea] [Korean Asbestos Relief Law]. Lobbying by asbestos victims of legislators and the instigation of legal actions were two of the effective strategies pursued to raise the profile of the asbestos scandal [Landmark Victories for the Asbestos-Injured] [Asbestos Activism in Korea] [Tribute to Hyung-Sik Choi]. A digest of asbestos news from Korea between 2010 and 2020 delineates some of the other initiatives undertaken to ensure that asbestos remained a high priority topic on the political agenda [IBAS News Directory: Korea].

Asbestos victims’ groups, including the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO), and occupational safety and health associations from Korea worked closely with like-minded organizations from Japan, Indonesia and elsewhere to highlight the escalation of asbestos-related illnesses and mortality and expose the deadly transfer of the asbestos industry from Japan to Korea to Indonesia to China [Asian Asbestos Conference 2009 (pages: 36; 30 & 31; 28)].

For a brief time, Rachel Lee Jung Lim (also known as Jeong-Rim Lee) became the face of Korean asbestos victims. Mrs. Lee contracted mesothelioma from environmental asbestos exposure experienced as a child. [Tribute to Korean Mesothelioma Victim] [In Appreciation of Rachel Lee] She campaigned at home and abroad for the closure of the asbestos industry. Despite her illness, she travelled throughout Korea and visited Indonesia, India and Canada calling for an end to asbestos mining and use [Quebec Mission 2010. Official Press Briefing (page 14 & 15)] In her memory, the Rachel Lee Award was established to commemorate outstanding achievements by others working to ban asbestos and support the injured [The Rachel Lee Jung Lim Award].

June 2020



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