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Ukrainians flee toxic cloud after train derailment - extended

A poison cloud has forced hundreds of Ukrainians to flee, amid fears of a major environmental disaster. Investigators on Wednesday named failure of liquid phosphorus containers as a possible cause of a massive chemical spill after a railroad accident.

Over 800 villagers have been evacuated from their homes after a train carrying a highly toxic substance derailed and caught fire. At least 20 people have been treated in hospital. The giant cloud produced by the blaze has contaminated an area of 90 square kilometres in the Lviv region. Ukraine's deputy prime minister evoked the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986. “A disaster has happened in our country” Oleksandr Kuzmuk said. “After the Chernobyl catastrophe, we are dealing with a case that can pose a real threat to our people.”

The train, travelling from Kazakhstan to Poland, left the tracks in western Ukraine at 4.55 p.m. local time on Monday, derailing 15 rail tanks of highly flammable yellow phosphorus. Yellow phosphorus is a waxy solid, which is stored under liquid because it ignites on contact with oxygen. Phosphorus compounds can be extremely toxic. As enquiries continue into the cause of the accident, residents who have remained are being advised to stay indoors, not to eat vegetables from their gardens or use water from local wells. The train, travelling from Kazakhstan to Poland, left the tracks in western Ukraine at 4.55 p.m. local time on Monday, derailing 15 rail tanks of highly flammable yellow phosphorus. Yellow phosphorus is a waxy solid, which is stored under liquid because it ignites on contact with oxygen. Phosphorus compounds can be extremely toxic. As enquiries continue into the cause of the accident, residents who have remained are being advised to stay indoors, not to eat vegetables from their gardens or use water from local wells.

Romania is not confronted to a crisis situation following the ecological accident in Ukraine, that has generated a cloud of phosphorous powder, said yesterday the Romanian minister of Environment, Attila Korodi. He made this statement after the extraordinary meeting of the Interministerial Committee for Emergency Situations. “We have taken measures to keep the situation under control”, Korodi added. The Romanian minister of the Environment drew attention upon the fact that the authorities in Kyev didn't answer any of Romania's attempts to find out more about this event. Korodi took over the meteorologists' hypothesis according to which the toxic cloud would reach Romania in the next 36 hours. He added that for now the air currents are going to the north of the continent. Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that for the time being our country is having discussions with the Ukrainian side on this serious event.

Ukrainian investigators on Wednesday named failure of liquid phosphorus containers as a possible cause of a massive chemical spill after a railroad accident. Clearing up the debris and removing the phosphorus still in the containers was moving forward only slowly owing to extreme heat caused by phosphorus still escaping from the containers and reacting with the air, officials said. “It is going to be a while before we can get up to the phosphorus and remove it,” said Pavlo Vasylenko, an Emergency Situations Ministry official. Time was needed to construct a road capable of handling heavy lorries up the railroad embankment to the accident site so as to spray the phosphorus with a neutralizing agent, a task made more difficult by toxic gas blanketing the area, he said. “We have all the equipment and people we need on hand, but the task is extremely difficult,” Vasylenko explained. Air-quality tests in the area showed phosphorus levels up to 10 times normal levels, but still not exceeding the safety zone, according to a Wednesday Ministry of Emergency Situations statement. (euronews.net, ziua.ro, earthtimes.org)