We live in the ‘Era of Chemical products’. Most of the stuff we use in our daily lives is the result of chemical development and we use chemical products in a variety of fields. The advance of chemistry has made our lives better and has changed many things. However, the safety issues of chemicals continue to emerge. Recently, many Koreans started to fear chemical products and high concerns surfaced related to the safety of the products. Let’s look at what happened in Korea.
● Fear of Chemicals; ‘Chemophobia’
Do you know the word ‘Chemophobia’? Chemophobia is a word made up with the words ‘chemical’ and ‘phobia’ and means the fear of chemicals. It is a social phenomenon that arose from the increasing interest in chemicals in the modern world and the need to guard us against the dangers of chemicals. This chemical fear led to coining the word ‘no-chemi joc(joc means a group of people)’. Many of them use natural ingredients and products to replace the chemical detergents, perfume, and shampoo.
● The Chemical Events that Terrorized Us
- Produced by Human Greed ‘DDT’
DDT(Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) was developed by chemist Paul Hermann Muller in 1939. It was widely used as pesticide because it could be produced in large quantities at low prices and it was very effective in fighting typhus and malaria. However, after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, the risk of exposure to DDT has become known to many people. The title of the book means that although spring came, we could not hear the birds chirping because of the destruction of their ecosystem. This book led to a social movement to ban the use of DDT. With the increasing use of DDT, insects had become resistant to DDT and many birds and fish have died by digesting this solution. As a result, DDT was banned in many countries under immense social pressure.
- The Silent Killer ‘Humidifier Sterilizer’
Since the development of humidifier sterilizers, more than 1,300 people have died due to them. Many of the victims were children and mothers. Typical humidifier sterilizers that caused many casualties are used by adding a small amount to the water in the humidifier. When the humidifier is activated, the ingredients of the sterilizer penetrate the lungs and cause the disease. The incident surfaced in 2011. But five years later, in 2016, victims received corporate apologies. The Government began actively investigating and established a compensation system for the victims of humidifier sterilizers.
- Impure Sanitary Products ‘Sanitary Pad’
When the results of the tests related to toxic sanitary pads were announced in 2017, the sanitary pad shock started. Afterwards, the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) started investigating and found carcinogens in many brands. There was a boycott against the sanitary pads and the companies stopped selling the products and offered a refund. Later, MFDS announced that the sanitary pads were not harmful, and the sales of the sanitary products resumed. However, people were suspicious and began to look for replacement products such as cotton sanitary pads.
- Sleeping with Radiation ‘Radon bed’
In the Spring of 2018, Radon, a carcinogenic substance that releases radiation, was found in a bed sold on the market. People who were using the bed were shocked and many people rushed to change their beds. The problem was the company used unverified anion powder as a material for beds. Monazite, the raw material for anion powder, releases radon. The bed was in direct contact with the skin, so experts were concerned with the possibility of internal exposure. In the end, the company recalled the products and offered refunds to the customers.
● Unknowing Is Quite Lethal: The History of Diseases Related to Chemicals
-Middle Ages: Beauty caused death, lead poisoning
Before cosmetics developed like this, many people used lead as powder on their face. It might come from their unknowingness and lack of research. Some used so much that the lead poisoning caused their faces to turn blue. To hide the blue shade, they used more and more lead just to make it worse.
-Modern times: The chemical scientist who saved and killed lives.
The chemical scientist mentioned in the subtitle above was Fritz Haber who created a fertilizer and a gas weapon. In the early 20th century, it was a common thing that people were dying because of hunger. To solve this problem, German scientist Haber found a way to make a highly productive chemical fertilizer and was given the nickname ‘the person who makes bread from air’. However, in World War 1, Haber hoped that Germany would win the war. So, he developed a toxic gas weapon to win the war. Finally in World War 2, the Jews were suppressed by the Nazis, who actually used this toxic gas weapon to kill them. Haber was Jewish and had to escape from the country he loved so much. Sadly, he realized that one of his inventions he’d developed to kill his country’s enemies instead killed his friends, relatives and other innocent victims.
-Now: A job to pay for one's life, leukemia from a semiconductor factory
In the world, there have been so many diseases derived from modern industries. This has also been the case in Korea, and in the case cited here, it occurred in the workplace. Korea is famous for semiconductors and many related factories are located in South Korea. In one of the semiconductor factories, some workers developed leukemia and lost their lives. They wanted to have some worker’s compensation but factory didn’t agree with their leukemia was from the factory’s work. So the workers, and their affected family members, embarked on a lengthy and complex lawsuit against the companies. It became a publicized and drawn-out fight. Fortunately for the victims and their families, the Korean courts sided with the idea that the contraction of leukemia was related to the victims working in the factories and the companies had to pay a sizeable compensation.
● How to Avoid Harmful Chemical Products?
1. In the Kitchen & Bathroom
For both places, it would be effective to use baking powder. If you wash fruit with baking powder, you could get rid of the dust and pesticide easily. Also, your bathroom can become cleaner than before.
It is hard to wash oily plates and pots, but if you use flour, you could wash them easily. Scatter flour on the oily surface and make it into a dough. After that process, get rid of the dough and wash thoroughly.
Do you like to drink Coke? Why not yield this sweet soft-drink to your toilet? With the coke, your toilet can become the status like you just bought it.
2. In Daily Life
The Sanitary pad safety issues were a hot potato in Korea during 2017. Even though it was directly related to women’s health, most of the pads were harmful. Because of past experiences, women started thinking of ways to substitute their disposable pads. The first way was to buy imported sanitary pads. The foreign disposable pads were cheaper and safer than the Korean products. Another way was using cotton pads. However, cotton pads had a serious weakness: it was difficult to wash and there was a problem with blood leakage. Even with this challenge, some people preferred to use these as opposed to other options. The last one was a menstrual cup. However, the Korean government did not authorize the official sale of the menstrual cup. So, People started buying this kind of cup overseas. The menstrual cup is made up of medical silicon and the life expectancy is two or three years.
By following the chemical-free product routines, we can take a step forward towards becoming a smart earth resident. Chemical products are convenient, but we must always consider that what is convenient may be harmful and there have been many cases that have proven this. We should always keep in mind that we really don’t want to experience a ‘Silent Spring.