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Deadly Acid Leak from Samsung Plant in South Korea; Damages Still Being Evaluated

February 15, 2013 - Written By Brandon Wann

Hwaseong, South Korea, a toxic spill of a highly lethal substance called Hydrofluoric acid has left one worker dead and three others injured.  The incident occurred late last month just 37 miles (60km) away from Seoul, where Samsung’s base of operations is located.  According to reports, about 10 liters of hydrofluoric acid was leaked via a pipeline.

Song Byung-sun, who led the investigation, has said of the incident, “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.”

After the incident, Samsung has issued a statement noting the situation was contained, and there was no risk for contamination of the liquid or gas spreading to the areas that surround.  South Korean officials have stated, though, that may not be the case, according to CCTV footage, of which the video showed one of Samsung’s subcontractors discharging the deadly acid through a large ventilation system.

Officials are considering the possibility of residents within a 1 mile (2km) radius being affected by the deadly spill, while environmental groups in the area are claiming to have detected a higher than normal level of hydrofluoric acid in the area surrounding the site of the incident.

Samsung came under fire for this incident from the media and the masses, which accuses the Korean tech giant of not reporting the incident properly, and for trying to cover up the nature of the toxic spill.  Samsung was sanctioned for 1 million Won, which equals to exactly $927.39 in American currency, but no other penalty has been imposed as of yet.

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Hydrofluoric acid is highly corrosive, capable of dissolving many materials, especially oxides and even glass.  All it takes is for one to come in contact with the toxin in order to be affected by it and takes as little as 25 square inches (160 cm) of exposure in order for it to be fully lethal.

Coming in such contact would mean that the body’s metabolism of calcium would be greatly interfered, which would lead to systemic toxicity, cardiac arrest, and end in death.  It also deadens the nerves, which could also lead an accidental exposure to go unnoticed, but exposures that get immediate treatment are generally remedied with calcium chloride to counteract the effects.

As much as it is dangerous though, it is helpful in various ways; gold miners use hydrofluoric acid to separate the gold from the rock because of its ability to dissolve oxides, it’s also used in the crafting of stainless steel, silicon semiconductors, and it’s even used for etching glass.