Leukemia linked to semiconductor production


In a landmark court ruling, cancer among workers in the semiconductor industry is considered for the first time to be an occupational disease.

SEOUL: On June 23, the Seoul Administrative Court ordered that Samsung Electronics compensate the families of two workers, Hwang Yumi and Lee Sookyoung, who both died of acute myeloid leukemia (white blood cell cancer) after working at the same point on a Samsung production line for wafers used to make semiconductors. This ruling overturned a decision in 2009 by the Korea Workers' Compensation & Welfare Service not to pay compensation and funeral expenses for the deaths and refusing to acknowledge them as workplace related deaths.

Handing down their decision, the Administrative Court panel of judges stated, 'Although the cause of the employees' leukemia has yet to be determined clearly on a scientific basis, it is presumable that their constant exposure to toxic chemicals and ionizing radiation had caused or, at least, expedited the illness. It is fit to say there is a link between their leukemia and their careers'.

This landmark decision is likely to lead to further lawsuits from workers at Samsung. Information gathered by activists shows that 23 Samsung workers so far have suffered from hematopoietic cancer like leukemia or lymphoma, at least 9 of whom have died. On 1 March 2010, activist groups including the Korean Metalworkers' Union (KMWU) launched a global campaign to call on the Korean government to investigate the link between these cancers and the workers' employment in electronics manufacturing (http://www.imfmetal.org/index.cfm?c=22391) and to provide remedy to workers and their families.

Samsung responded to the ruling by refusing to accept the finding and stating that it will soon announce the results of its own investigation into semiconductor production lines.