January 6, 2009

Study looks at major chlorine disaster

A study on the aftereffects of a chlorine gas disaster in South Carolina provides insight into how to prepare for the gas's release, the authors said.

The study researches the aftereffects of the 2005 accident near Graniteville, S.C., in which eight people died at the scene and at least 525 people were treated in emergency rooms and 71 were hospitalized.

The authors said the report provides major cities insight into what to expect and how to prepare emergency response systems for an accidental or terrorist release of the gas.

This is one of the largest community exposures to chlorine gas since World War I, said lead author David Van Sickle of the University of Wisconsin. It was a tragic disaster that shows us what a significant challenge a large-scale chlorine gas release poses to health care facilities.

On Jan. 6, 2005, a freight train with three tanker cars -- each loaded with 90 tons of chlorine -- collided with a parked locomotive in the center of the 7,000-person South Carolina community. The collision ruptured one tank, releasing between 42 tons and 60 tons of chlorine gas.

The report said many hospitalized patients showed evidence of severe lung damage, with 10 percent requiring mechanical ventilation. Despite the severity of their injuries, the majority recovered quickly and discharged within a week.

Public health agencies and hospitals across the country can learn a lot from this disaster and be better prepared to help in the next emergency said James J. Gibson, South Carolina state epidemiologist and state director of the Bureau of Disease Control. We continue to monitor area residents for any possible long-term health effects.