A new study examining the aftereffects of a chlorine gas disaster in a South Carolina town gives larger metropolitan areas important insight into what to expect and how to prepare emergency response systems for an accidental or terrorist release of the potentially deadly gas. The study is now available in the January 2009 issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
"This is one of the largest community exposures to chlorine gas since World War I," said David Van Sickle, Ph.D., a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the report. "It was a tragic disaster that shows us what a significant challenge a large-scale chlorine gas release poses to health care facilities."
Van Sickle added that hospitals need to be able to quickly recognize the signs of chlorine exposure, and have a plan to provide a sufficient number of mechanical ventilators in the event of another massive chlorine disaster.
Van Sickle was part of a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) that investigated the resulting health effects.
In January 2005, a freight train carrying three tanker carseach loaded with 90 tons of chlorinecollided with a parked locomotive in the center of Graniteville, S.C., a 7,000-person town located 15 miles from Augusta, Ga. The 2 a.m. train collision ruptured one tank, releasing between 42 and 60 tons of chlorine gas that infiltrated a large textile mill, where 180 people were working the overnight shift.
On the night of the South Carolina disaster, eight people died at the scene. At least 525 people were treated in emergency rooms and 71 were hospitalized, at nine hospitals in South Carolina and Georgia.
Chlorine gas is an irritating, fast-acting and potentially deadly inhalant. It is also one of the most universal toxic chemic
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Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars