Believe it or not, it is popular belief in South Korea that if you leave a fan on in an enclosed room it could suck out all of the air and…kill you!
The origins of this wives’ tale are unclear, but the fear of death-by-fan has been around since electric fans were introduced to Korea in the 1930s. Some suggest that it was propagated by the South Korean government to curb the use of electricity during the 1970s energy crisis.
How exactly could an electric breeze be fatal?
Some South Koreans believe the cold air circulating could cause hypothermia, leading to organ failure. Others think that oxygen is sucked out of the room, causing suffocation. It is even believed that these blades of death convert oxygen molecules into carbon dioxide.
These fears are not taken lightly. Manufacturers equip fans with sleep timers, the media covers fan deaths and South Korea’s Consumer Protection Board has even issued warnings.
In 2008, Chun Rim, a professor at the Department of Nuclear and Quantum Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, decided to put fan death to the test. Having a hard time trying to find test subjects willing to challenge death, Rim used his very own 11-year-old daughter. Checking her vitals every five minutes throughout the night, they remained close to constant and the Rim family now sleeps soundly with fans on.
During heat waves in the 80s and 90s, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a warning against fans. In their Excessive Heat Events guidebook, the EPA warned that Americans should not direct the flow of portable electric fans toward themselves when a room is hotter than 90 degrees, suggesting that fans could evaporate moisture quickly under those conditions, leading to dehydration.
Could there be some merit to South Korea’s fear of fans or is this just another cultural curiosity?