South Korea today began evacuating people from a village near Gumi, where eight tons of hydrofluoric acid leaked out of the city's Hube Global's chemical factory on September 27, according to Agence France-Press.
(Note: this article has been changed to reflect it was hydrofluoric acid that spilled, not hydrocloric as initially reported by AFP.)
Several dozen villagers were taken to a temporary shelter today, and officials said the rest of Bongsan-ri village's 300 residents will be moved in later stages.
The move comes a day after the government launched a three-day probe into the leak amid mounting concerns that it has compromised the health of hundreds, issuing a statement saying authorities may designate "the affected region a special disaster zone," according to Agence-France Press.
Health officials said at least 600 people have so far been treated for health complications caused by the leak, said AFP. The spill was triggered by an accidental explosion that killed five people at the plant.
Hydrofluroric acid is capable of penetrating human tissue and is considered extremely dangerous.
But residents of the area say the government has been slow to respond to health concerns. Today's relocation came hours after villagers held a meeting to demand they be removed from the region.
Local leader Park Myung-seok told AFP he and other villagers had "decided to relocate by ourselves as the government is doing nothing for us."
Residents of another nearby village, Imcheon-ri, are also reportedly calling for relocation.
Gomi's disaster management office today said 73 companies have reported property damage related to the leak that totaled some $8.5 million, said AFP. A large amount of farmland was also affected.