Hwang Yu-mi died of leukemia when she was just 22 years old. Chung Ji-yeon died of leukemia when she was just 34 years old. Park Min-sook was diagnosed with breast cancer, but survived.
Each of these South Korean patients have one thing in common: they were all Samsung chip workers exposed to hazardous, carcinogenic chemicals, namely benzene, a chemical that is heavily linked to blood cancers, leukemia, lymphomas and aplastic anemia, on a regular basis. Other chemicals that workers are exposed to daily are arsenic, acetone, methane, sulphuric acid and heavy metals such as lead.
Yu-mi bathed silicone wafers in chemicals that she couldn’t identify, like most other workers in her position. Workers are frustrated, saying that Samsung is keeping from them the list of toxins they are exposed to, claiming they are “trade secrets.”
In addition, employees say Samsung is offering their sick workers compensation to keep quiet. According to Hwang Sang-gi, Hwang Yu-mi’s father, Samsung offered him 1 billion won (nearly $890,000 U.S.) to stay silent and not pursue a case regarding his daughter’s death.
“The idea was to deny her illness was an occupational disease and to leave me without any power to fight back,” he recalls.
But he refused. Instead, he founded Banolim, a company that documents cases of serious illnesses among former Samsung semiconductor and LCD workers. Hwang Sang-gi, along with four other former Samsung semiconductor workers who were suffering from blood cancers, began filing claims for worker’s compensation.The company has already filed 200 cases. However, 76 of those who filed claims have died, most of whom were in their 20s and 30s.
Hwang Sang-gi eventually received nearly $230,000 from the government, but he still fights to give sick workers a voice.
“Our fight is often against trade secrets,” said an attorney that represented 15 seriously ill Samsung workers. “Any contents that may not work in Samsung’s favour were deleted as trade secrets.”
“In a situation where people’s lives are at stake, (Samsung) brought uninformed kids from the countryside and acted like money is everything, using them as if they were disposable cups,” said Park Min-sook.
In an official statement, Samsung denies that information was illegally withheld from workers about the chemicals they were exposed to, but Baik Soo-ha, a Samsung Electronics vice-president, told The Associated Press, “We have a right to protect our information from going to a third party.”