Thursday, July 19, 2007

Number Of People Sickened By Toxic Smoke From Phosphorus Fire In Ukraine Up To 145

KIEV, Ukraine -- The number of people sickened by smoke from a chemical fire triggered by a train derailment reached 145 on Thursday, a health ministry spokeswoman said, as Ukraine's transport minister suggested the accident was caused by safety violations.

Transport Minister Mykola Rudkovsky suggested safety rules may have been violated

All of the 145 victims were hospitalized, including 43 children, health ministry spokeswoman Olena Titarchuk said. On Wednesday, officials reported that 69 people had fallen ill since the accident on Monday.

The accident occurred when a freight train derailed outside Lviv, near the Polish border, and 15 of its 58 cars overturned. Six tanker cars containing phosphorus ruptured and caught fire, sending smoke and noxious fumes over 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of Western Ukraine.

Transport Minister Mykola Rudkovsky suggested safety rules may have been violated, saying on Ukrainian television that if hazardous cargoes were transported following regulations and using appropriate equipment, accidents such as Monday's did not happen.

"If some defects appear in the technical condition of equipment, then accidents similar to the recent one happen," Rudkovsky said, without elaborating.

"The Soviet-era practice of issuing appeasing bureaucratic reports instead of taking professional measures, and concealing the actual situation instead of honestly informing the public, can no longer be accepted in Ukraine," President Viktor Yushchenko told government officials, according to a statement.

The emergency situations ministry said Thursday the situation was under control, and there was no lingering health threat, according to spokesman Ihor Krol.

But some toxicology experts warned the area may still contain hazardous levels of chemicals.

"This accident is very dangerous, and its consequence can be unpredictable. I doubt that there is no threat for people now," said Zofia Kubrak, a chemistry and toxicology specialist at Lviv Medical University.

The freight train was traveling from Kazakhstan to Poland when it derailed outside Lviv, near the Polish border.

Hundreds of people living in villages in the area were evacuated, while other families fled on their own.

The emergency ministry said authorities planned to send the tanker cars still loaded with phosphorus back to Kazakhstan. Rescuers are continuing to spray anti-fire foam on the damaged tankers to prevent new fires.

Phosphorus, which can catch fire on contact with air hotter than 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), can cause liver damage if consumed.

Phosphorus compounds are chiefly used in fertilizers, although they are important components of pesticides, toothpaste and detergents, as well as in explosives and fireworks.

About 50 million tones of cargo — 70 percent of which includes dangerous substances such as chlorine, nitrogen, ammonia and petroleum products — is transported by rail through Ukraine's territory annually.

The accident touched nerves still raw more than two decades after the catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, north of the capital, Kiev.

Source: International Herald Tribune

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