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Arnold School of Public Health
University of South Carolina
800 Sumter Street
Columbia, SC 29208

Phone: 803-777-5032
Fax: 803-777-4783



Posted 1/07/2008

Report finds effects of chlorine spill continue to affect Graniteville residents

Breathing problems and longtime emotional issues continue to worry survivors of the 2005 Graniteville train crash and chlorine spill, according to a new report by an Arnold School researcher.


Dr. Erik Svendsen, who also is an epidemiologist with DHEC's Bureau of Disease Control, reported that more than 850 people sought medical care following the train wreck in the small Aiken County textile town.

Nine people died and the area was evacuated of thousands of others when a Norfolk Southern train car carrying chlorine ruptured and released a poisonous cloud.

Most of the people examined by medical experts had suffered some type of lung injury, said Svendsen. "We found more than we anticipated," he said. "I'm not surprised because this was a disaster and you always miss people in a disaster."

Svendsen said DHEC is continuing to monitor the aftereffects of the accident through the Graniteville Recovery and Chlorine Epidemiology project, or GRACE. "The goals of the GRACE project are to reduce the impact of the event on the community, identify people who need medical care and get them to local physicians for the care they need," he said.

The findings are based on the first set of screenings of about 250 people who were within one mile of the accident when it occurred. The GRACE project also conducted a second round of screenings in 2007; however, those results have not been released.

Svendsen said findings of the project include:

  • An area health registry has 958 enrollees with 259 screenings done in 2005 and an additional 81 in 2007.

  • The registry identified 256 more injured people bringing the total number of victims to 1,384 with 851 who received medical attention immediately following the event.

  • Fifty-five percent of the people seen during the first round of screenings were recommended for additional follow-up medical care for at least one condition.

  • Over half of the people screened during the first round tested positive for some type of decreased lung function.

  • Just over 26 percent of those screened during the first round had some form of inflammation in their airways.

  • Nearly a third of those checked in the first round showed evidence of possible conditions such as asthma.

  • Three people who claimed to be non-smokers had airway blockages that could have been caused by emphysema.

  • Just over 26 percent of those screened in the first round had a significant loss of lung function but did not know it.

  • Nearly 41 percent of the people screened showed evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, an emotional disorder that can linger for years.

  • Eight people died from various causes since the event: four from cardiovascular disease, two from emphysema, one from pneumonia and one suicide. Chlorine injury is not listed as a contributor to any of the deaths.

Svendsen said anyone who lived or worked in Graniteville, traveled through the community or responded to the events on Jan. 6, 2005 can join the health registry by calling the Aiken County Helpline at 2-1-1 to register.

"We remain committed to the people of Graniteville by tracking their health status in the community and its schools," he said. "One of the ways we hope to achieve this is by establishing a health resource center."

"We'll continue this until we believe the community has recovered," Svendsen said.

Svendsen currently is gathering more data to support a grant application for a federally funded long-term health study of the Graniteville community.

“There are still many un-answered questions about the long-term health effects of chlorine gas injury. Many of the victims of the Graniteville chlorine disaster are still concerned about their health, both right now and in the future. Receiving additional funding to study the health of this community is a way to track their future health problems and to potentially help answer some of those yet un-answered questions,” said Svendsen.

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