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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Scores hit by Ukraine toxic smoke
Lviv derailment
Authorities have tried to play down the severity of the spill
More than 140 people have been treated in hospital in Ukraine for symptoms blamed on a toxic cloud formed by chemicals leaking from a crashed train.

The number is double that reported on Wednesday, two days after a train carrying toxic phosphorous compounds derailed near the town of Lviv.

Forty-three of those treated so far are children, health officials said.

Government officials say the leaked chemicals pose no lingering threat but some experts have questioned this.

"The situation is stable and under control. No-one is panicking," a spokesman for the emergency situations ministry, Pavlo Vasylenko, told the AFP news agency.

However, a toxicology expert at Lviv Medical University denied this.

"This accident is very dangerous, and its consequence can be unpredictable. I doubt that there is no threat for people now," Zofia Kubrak told the Associated Press news agency.

'Chernobyl comparison'

Officials on Wednesday said the concentration of noxious gases in the affected region was 23 times above normal.

But a senior minister said food and water supplies in the area were safe.

Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk, who travelled to the area, said on television on Wednesday that tests showed it was safe to eat vegetables and drink well water.

Mr Kuzmuk had said on Tuesday that the toxic cloud was a worrying development and compared the accident to the blast at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986.

He later backtracked, while other officials were careful to play down any comparisons with Chernobyl and said they had minimised the risk to public health.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych promised to punish those found responsible for the accident, but said the worst was over.

Ukrainian authorities said there was no suggestion of sabotage or terrorism.

Vast cloud

The freight train, which was en route from Kazakhstan to Poland, derailed near Lviv, the main town in western Ukraine, near the Polish border, on Monday night.

Fifteen of the train's 58 cars overturned, six of which then caught fire, officials said.

The toxic yellow cloud caused by the blaze covered an area of 90 sq km (34.7 sq miles) above 14 villages before dispersing on Tuesday.

Firefighters wearing masks and protective clothing managed to extinguish the fire after several hours.

Phosphorus compounds are mainly used in fertilisers, but can also be used to produce pesticides, cleaning products and explosives.


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