Authorities started a criminal investigation in a small Ukranian town where suspected chemical pollutants are believed to have triggered a mysterious disease that has caused scores of children to go bald and suffer hallucinations, Pravda said Thursday.

Health officials already have urged the evacuation of the few children remaining in Chernovtsky.Pravda, the Communist Party daily newspaper, said the state prosecutor's office was investigating whether government officials, factory managers or others may be criminally responsible for pollution that is believed to have caused the outbreak.

The illness has caused 127 children to become bald and many of them also have experienced hallucinations.

On Wednesday the weekly Literaturnaya Gazetta said authorities believe the pollutant may be lead or the rare element thallium, which has been sold by bootleggers as an anti-knock additive for gasoline because of a shortage of high-octane petrol in the region.

Thallium is also used to make rat poison.

The number of afflicted children has risen to 127 from 114 last week, when the Soviet press first reported in depth the outbreak in Chernovtsy, a picturesque city on the Prut river near the border with Poland and Romania.

"The situation is in crisis," Literaturnaya Gazetta said. "Today Cher