Ukranian railway accident generates huge phosphor cloud

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An alarm for heavy chemical pollution has been issued in the Lviv region, Ukraine, where yesterday evening a railway disaster led to a fire involving 15 containers of liquid yellow phosphorus.

Extinguishing the fire proved extremely difficult because water cannot be used: in contact with phosphorus, water creates poisonous gas. It took six hours before the flames were extinguished. Gas was generated nonetheless, and at the moment the poisoned area extends about 90 sq. km. The casualties count is already heavy: 20 people are reported injured, 13 of them in critical condition. They have been carried to the Lviv hospital. Podrobnosti reports that the fire started when one of the containers started to leak and the phosphor caught fire.

Map highlighting Lviv and the Lviv Oblast.

The poisoned area includes 14 villages. From the five villages that are closer to the disaster area some 800 people have already been evacuated. Half of the evacuees had to manage on their own as there was not enough public transport for all.

At the moment there is no available data about the wind direction or next expected movements of the phosphorus cloud. Special firemen units remain on place to control the possibility of a new fire, while the administration of the Lviv Oblast tries to forecast the possible short- and mid-term evolution of the situation.

The Ukrainian Railways have officially excluded the possibility of a terrorist act as a cause for the disaster.

Podrobnosti reports the deadly dose of yellow phosphor at 0.1 g. According to that source, when poisoning living beings, phosphor causes liver necrosis and attacks the bones and spinal cord.