Toxic fumes from meteorite blamed for sickness

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The Independent US

Officials in Peru are investigating unconfirmed reports that a meteorite crashed and led to dozens of people falling ill.

Local media have reported eyewitness accounts of a fiery ball falling from the sky and smashing into the desolate Andean plain near the Bolivian border on Saturday morning.

Officials have said it was a meteorite.

Jorge Lopez, director of the health department in the southern state of Puno, said yesterday that 200 people have suffered headaches, nausea and respiratory problems caused by "toxic" fumes emanating from the resulting crater, which is some 20 metres wide and five metres deep.

"This is caused by the gas they have inhaled after the crash," Lopez said, adding that a team of eight doctors was sent to investigate and treat the sick.

But meteor expert Ursula Marvin cast doubt on that theory, saying: "It wouldn't be the meteorite itself, but the dust it raises."

"A meteorite "wouldn't get much gas out of the earth", said Marvin, who has studied the objects since 1961 at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts, US.

"It's a very superficial thing."