A considerable quantity of cement produced in South Korea contains a high degree of hexavalent chromium plating (Cr6+), a heavy metal that can cause not only allergies but also cancer if it comes into contact with human skin or is accumulated within the body.
The Korea Cement Industrial Association (KCIA) announced the findings, which come from a six-month analysis performed by the Korea Institute of Ceramic Engineering & Technology (KICET) between June and November last year. This is the first time that the cement industry has revealed findings regarding the heavy metal content of cement.
According to the report, recently obtained by the ruling Uri Party’s Woo Won-shik of the National Assembly Environment & Labor Committee, the KICET found that six of 10 cement samples contained 2.17-4.44 mg/l of Cr6+, higher than the national standard. The cement samples were provided by the cement industry. Using the Japanese Cement Association’s testing methods, the same 10 samples were found to contain an average Cr6+ concentration of 25.5 mg/kg, more than three times the amount found in Japanese cement.
Workers at cement manufacturing plants, residents living near these plants, and construction workers are the first victims of Cr6+ contained in cement. In the long term, however, all South Koreans are potential victims.
Im Jong Han, professor at Imha University’s Industrial Medicine department, said that "Cr6+ in cement is not released after the cement is hardened. But nobody is safe from Cr6+ that has gotten into the air, which can occur when the cement ages or crumbles.
South Korea produces almost 50Mt of cement a year and most is used nationally, making Korea the world’s fifth-largest cement-employing nation. Thus, the possibility is high that excess levels of Cr6+ are being released into the environment. Children are especially susceptible to poisoning from the heavy metal.
Cr6+ is produced in the cement making process when chromium is combined with other ingredients, the report said. The report’s findings differ with the industry’s previous claim that the cement manufacturing process destroys 99.999% of harmful materials.
South Korea does not have standards in place to limit the content of Cr6+ in domestically produced cement. A high-ranking official of the KCIA said, "In consideration of the people’s concerns, the cement industry is going to enforce a standard matching that of Japan. If the plan takes effect according to schedule, the amount of Cr6+ will be decreased by half" by the year 2009, he said.
Reverend Choi Byeong-seong, activist, said, "The government shouldn’t request that the population [be exposed to] cement containing more than the standard of Cr6+ for more than two years. The nation should prepare regulation standards as soon as possible."