Civilian experts to assist gov't response to chemical accidents

SEJONG, July 24 (Yonhap) -- The government will sign an agreement Wednesday with an academic organization so authorities can receive assistance from civilian experts to swiftly respond to chemical accidents, the environment ministry said.

The pact between the Ministry of Environment and the Korean Chemical Society requires both sides to share information on dangerous chemical materials and the facilities that deal with them as well as conduct a joint study.

The Korean Chemical Society is the nation's largest academic organization on chemistry, boasting some 7,000 members nationwide.

Officials expect the move will enable the government to quickly respond to chemical accidents, instantly obtaining necessary information from society members residing near the scene of accidents.

The government has dispatched experts hired by its local branch offices whenever such accidents take place. However, as most factory complexes are located more than an hour drive from local environmental offices, the experts often arrive too late to be of assistance during the initial stages of the accident.

Under the agreement, regionally-based civilian experts will provide information on chemical materials leaked and how to respond before a government team arrives, according to the ministry.

The agreement follows a series of deadly accidents at chemical factories. Last September, some eight tons of toxic acid leaked at a plant in the southeastern city of Gumi, killing five workers and injuring 16 others. The country has also seen at least four major fatal gas leaks this year, which killed six workers and injured nearly 200 people.

The number of deaths from chemical accidents soared nearly 40 percent on-year to 98 last year amid a spate of fires, explosions and gas leaks at industrial plants nationwide, with this year's casualties feared to rise further, according to government data.

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