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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Dozens sick after Ukraine spill
Lviv derailment
Authorities have tried to play down the severity of the spill
The number of people seeking medical help after Tuesday's poisonous chemical spill in Ukraine has increased dramatically overnight.

Up to 70 people are being treated for the effects of toxic fumes released in the derailment of a train near the western city of Lviv.

Authorities say that the concentration of noxious gases in the affected region is above normal.

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

About half of those seeking help, including 19 children, were taken to hospital, a spokesman for the emergency situations ministry said, but he added that their lives were not in danger.

The nature ministry said in a statement that the concentration of phosphorous residue in the air over two of the villages near the accident was 23 times above normal.

But 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.

Remembering Chernobyl

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.

Viktor Yanukovych
We have resolved the situation by extinguishing those tankers. Now we need to talk about dealing with the aftermath
Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine PM

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.

"I can say we have resolved the situation by extinguishing those tankers. Now we need to talk about dealing with the aftermath of this breakdown", Mr Yanukovych was quoted as saying by Ukrainian TV channel 5 Kanal.

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

The freight train, which was en route from Kazakhstan to Poland, derailed near Lviv, a town not far from the Polish border in western Ukraine 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.

Dangerous transport

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

A spokesman for Greenpeace International, Yannick Vicaire, told BBC News: "Phosphorous is a very aggressive and corrosive substance, it can affect the eyes, lungs and even the liver, if contaminated water or food is ingested."

He said the accident underscored the dangers of chemical transports, which should be avoided whenever possible.


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