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Seoul Subways Inundated with Asbestos

Days after South Korea's leading newspaper broke a story about asbestos contamination in railway stations, Seoul Metro, the city-run subway operator agreed to begin removing the harmful carcinogen.

The story broke after reporter's learned that subway station walls and ceilings were literally covered in asbestos. However leading politicians say the removal will be slow and ineffective given the government's current asbestos regulations.

South Korea's asbestos abatement and removal programs are largely trivial because the country lacks experienced firms and workers. Unlike the United States, South Korea does not have any licensing or certification for firms to handle and remove asbestos.

In 2003 legislation was created to foster a certification program but no tests or requirements were ever set. Firms that remove asbestos are often trash or building material removal companies with no specialized asbestos division. Seok Mi-hi, chief executive officer of ETS Consulting, said, "No South Korean company exists right now to remove asbestos.with the guarantee of safety." South Korea may need to use foreign contractors or consultants in order to perform work and set standards because domestic untrained workers generally end up performing abatement and renewal. According to Choi Sang-jun, a researcher at the Wonjin Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health, "There are only three to five institutions in South Korea that can appropriately assess the content of asbestos." The extent of asbestos contamination in South Korea is unknown because of the lack of firms and professionals to diagnose and eliminate asbestos hazards.