Long-term health effects of South Carolina chlorine spill studied

The long-term health effects of a catastrophic chemical accident at Graniteville, S.C. five years ago will be studied by USC researchers who recently won a nearly $3 million federal grant for the work.

USC's study, headed by epidemiologist Erik Svendsen, will look at whether chlorine exposure is causing people's lungs to age prematurely.

Previous research by Svendsen found that, in the first year after the train wreck and chemical leak, the lungs of some people who breathed chlorine were aging at about four times the rate that they were before the 2005 accident.

The new, five-year study will follow up on that research. The $2.9 million grant will fund the first long-term chlorine health study of its kind, according to USC.

During a USC news conference Friday to announce a series of federal grants for university health researchers, Svendsen said Carolina's latest work could answer important questions for people who continue to complain about illness from chlorine exposure.

"We are very excited about this opportunity to be able to go back down to the Graniteville community and to find some answers to what they've been telling us, that 'We're still sick,'" Svendsen said, adding that the work will be to conduct "long-term health evaluations."

"We do not know if they've gotten better or not. We want to find out. That is the purpose of the grant."

Graniteville is a sleepy mill town in Aiken County where nine people died from chlorine exposure after the Jan. 6, 2005, train crash. Early that morning, a Norfolk Southern train ran off the main track and smashed into a parked train, causing a tank car to rupture and spill tons of chlorine. Chlorine is a chemical widely used to keep water clean, cleanse clothing and for industrial purposes. But it also is deadly to people in high concentrations.

In addition to the nine deaths, hundreds of people needed medical attention. Chlorine bleached trees and grass, and corroded equipment at the nearby textile milll, Avondale Mills, which has since shut down.

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