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Toxic Fumes Threaten Thousands In Ukraine After Rail Crash

Rescue workers extinguish a fire after the derailment of a train transporting yellow phosphorus about 70 kms from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, 16 July 2007. About ten of the 58 tankers of the train from Kazakhstan to Poland overturned and caught fire. Four rescuers were seriousty injured and 800 inhabitants were evacuated. AFP Photo/Evgen Kraws.
by Vassyl Troukhan
Lviv (AFP) Jul 18, 2007
Toxic fumes threatened thousands of residents in western Ukraine on Tuesday after a freight train derailed and caught fire, causing mass evacuations and leaving at least 21 people injured. Authorities were urging residents to use gas masks and remain inside as yellow clouds of highly toxic phosphorus hung over the area.

Six of the train's tank cars caught fire in Monday's accident near the city of Lviv, leaking a "large quantity of toxic fumes and gas," regional government spokesman Taras Batenko said. The fire had been put out several hours later.

Twenty-one people had been hospitalised for poisoning, including seven rescue workers and two police officers, regional officials said. One of those injured was in serious condition.

Doctors prepared for the arrival of more victims in the days to come, fearing phosphorus could be ingested through food.

Fumes covered an area stretching 86 square kilometres (33 square miles) from the scene of the accident almost to the village of Ojydiv before dispersing, said Oleg Chtangret, spokesman for the health minister.

The fumes brought panic in the region, and Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk compared the incident to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

A total of 11,000 residents live in the affected area, Batenko said. Some 900 had been evacuated at their own request.

Many residents of Brody, located near Ojydiv, left the city early Tuesday. Several of those who remained wore gas masks when they went outside, said local official Volodymyr Adamets, who added that residents were unhappy with authorities' response.

"People are outraged and terrified," he said.

Ukraine's neighbours were also concerned. Romania, Hungary and Poland promised to exchange information on the incident, fearing they could be affected by toxic fumes.

Polish deputy interior minister Pawel Soloch said the fumes posed no danger for Poland for the time being since they were moving in the opposite direction, while a representative with Bulgaria's civil defence agency said there was "no danger for Bulgarians".

Romanian authorities were on alert, but environment minister Attila Korodi said, "We will not have any pollution." Weather predictions in Romania showed the country was not in danger.

The European Commission said it had not received any requests for assistance.

"According to what we know, the situation is under control and doesn't seem to be alarming," a source with the EU's environment office said Tuesday evening.

The train had been heading from Kazakhstan to Poland. Authorities have yet to establish the cause of the incident and have opened an investigation.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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