Pattern of illness in S. Korean village children - FOX Carolina 21

5 Investigates finds pattern of illness in S. Korean village children

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Young-Ye Yook's son died at 19 years old Young-Ye Yook's son died at 19 years old
TUCSON, AZ (AP) -

Twelve-year-old Da-Hee Bang writes poetry about flowers and trees. And hope.

She hopes to go back to school, and she hopes to play with her friends. But most of all, she hopes she won't have to go back to the hospital.

"She would cry and just say she wants to live," says Pan-Sook Kim, who takes her daughter to the hospital every other week to be treated for leukemia.

"I don't know what to do," Kim said through tears.

Kim's daughter got sick in 2006, when the family lived in an apartment complex, just down the road from Camp Carroll, a U.S. Army installation where barrels full of toxic waste are alleged to have been buried more than 30 years ago.

"When my daughter got sick, I had no idea," says Kim. "Now that the defoliant issue is here, I feel like it may be the reason my daughter is sick."

Since allegations surfaced that American soldiers buried Agent Orange on this military base, the small village of Waegwan has been thrust into the middle of an international controversy. And residents worry they might have been exposed for years.

"I am concerned for the people of our country," says Kyun-Ho Kwak, chairman of Chilgok County. He tells CBS 5 Investigates he has seen a high number of unexplained illnesses in his county.

"The stream near the base leads to the Nak-Dong River," says Kwak. "So, I believe that if the Agent Orange is buried there, it could have caused illnesses."

He says the county is conducting its own investigation, because he believes the U.S. military has not been forthcoming.

"As the investigation proceeded, we were suspicious because there was not transparency," says Kwak.

But a father in the village named Sang-Chul Park says he doesn't need test results to tell him what he already knows. Both his sons are sick.

"I wish this tragedy had never happened," says Park.

Park's oldest son, Yun-Bum, has autism. And his 13-year-old son, Yun-Uk, has leukemia.

"Sometimes I don't want to go to the hospital," says Yun-Uk. "I just want to play with my friends without any worries."

Yun-Uk spends his days in front of the television or on the computer. He does not have many visitors because of the risk of germs.

Sang-Chul Park takes CBS 5 Investigates to a little house, the place where he once lived with his sons. It's now nothing more than an overgrown field, next to some abandoned apartments. He points out the dormant well where they got their water.

"I drank this water," he says. "Everybody drank it. I cooked rice with it. It was part of our daily life."

Just over the fence, about a hundred yards away, is Camp Carroll. And a stream where Park would fish with his sons.

Locals say that in the past they've seen oil floating from the base in the stream. The obvious problem is that there are crops growing right on the bank.

The effects of Agent Orange exposure are well documented. The deadly herbicide has been linked to 15 different conditions, including birth defects, nerve disorders and cancers, such as leukemia.

CBS 5 Investigates found a pattern in the village of children stricken with leukemia.

According to the South Korean government's own statistics, between 2005 and 2009 the cancer death rates in the area around the military base were higher than the national average - as much as 17 percent higher.

And the number of people dying from nervous system diseases was as much as 73 percent higher than the national average.

"We formed a team of doctors from Seoul, lawyers and residents," says Man-Ho Lee, who chairs a group of local businesses in Waegwan.

He's launched his own study to find out why so many people are sick. He fears it is a result of drinking water contaminated from the base.

"Back then, people had no idea defoliant might be the cause," says Lee. "Right now, because of our research, we believe the defoliant is the reason. So, we are shocked."

Down the road from Camp Carroll there used to be a well that two families shared. A child from one family was born with disabilities and later died. A child from the other family died of leukemia. Both families blame the water in that well.

"My son got sick in 1989 and he died in 1990," says Young-Ye Yook, whose son was just 19 when he died of leukemia.

"At the time, everyone used the water from the well, so no one suspected it," she says. "Now I think the well might have caused the illness."

Yook says she burned all but a few photographs of her son because they are too painful to look at.

And even now, a decade later, she's left wondering why her son got Leukemia.

"I think that the Agent Orange caused it," she says.

A very real fear for parents in the village. But for the sick children there, those still too young to understand what they are battling, there is still hope.

Just ask Da-Hee Bang, who continues to write poetry about hope.

Copyright 2011 KPHO. All rights reserved.

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