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US military not affected by chemical explosion at South Korean plant

SEOUL — U.S. Army bases in South Korea have not been affected by a chemical leak in Gumi that led to the evacuation of hundreds of civilians, officials said Tuesday.

The leak of hydrofluouric acid at the Hube Globe factory killed five workers and injured 18 others, and has sickened more than 3,000 residents.

Daegu area spokesman Philip Molter said a number of factors were checked to make sure the leak did not reach Camp Carroll, about six miles south of the accident site. No base evacuations are expected, he said.

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The deputy director of the National Institute of Environmental Research said Camp Carroll was not within the one kilometer radius affected by the leak and was safe.

A military computer analysis determined that the chemical’s plume was traveling north by northeast, directly away from Carroll, Molter said. South Korean water monitoring reports measured trace elements of acid but in levels within acceptable drinking standards, he said.

The leak has not affected other nearby U.S. installations in Daegu, where Camp Walker and Camp Henry are located.

A nine-person, four-vehicle task force of firefighters from U.S. Army Garrison Daegu responded to a request for assistance from South Korean firefighters at 5:18 p.m. on Sept. 27 after a factory explosion that released the acid.

The firefighters realized there were no traffic control points near the factory and began directing rush-hour traffic away from the scene. Task force members contacted Korean officials to let them know of the danger, and within five minutes handed traffic control over to South Korean police.

The Daegu firefighters did not travel inside the accident perimeter and were not exposed to hazardous materials, he said. The task force returned to post by 9:50 p.m.

All Camp Walker and Camp Carroll firefighters were recalled in case they were needed.

On Monday, the South Korean government designated an area in Gumi near the gas leak as a special disaster zone, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News.

Approximately 1,200 people live in two villages near the leak site, Yonhap said, adding that nearby crops and orchards have withered, and 3,200 livestock have become ill.

Exposure to hydrofluoric acid can cause severe damage to eyes, skin and lungs.

Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

rowlanda@stripes.com

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