“The good news is what we see in the data so far is a downward trend in the incidence of cancer and a downward trend in infant mortality,” said Amy Brock Martin, an assistant research professor at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.
During a program Saturday at the Family Y of Graniteville, Martin and others shared the findings of the school’s two-year “Restoration in Graniteville Through Supportive Engagement” project.
Martin compared hospital visits by residents three years before and after the Jan. 6, 2005, disaster, which killed nine people, injured hundreds and remains the largest chlorine spill in U.S. history.
Though the wreck might have encouraged people to take advantage of medical care, some still battle respiratory ailments, she said, and mental illness has emerged as a major after-effect.
“That really seems to be the top crisis that people near the spill continue to deal with,” she said.
Another part of the project involved interviews with health care providers, whose perspectives were presented by Louisiana Wright Sanders, of the Graniteville Recovery and Chlorine Epidemiology Study Center.
Medical professionals noted lingering effects including asthma and other respiratory ailments, skin issues and cancer, along with depression and anxiety similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, Sanders said.
The wreck took a huge toll on quality of life in the area, and the resulting plant closings and unemployment caused more anguish. On the positive side, findings show the disaster contributed to “community cohesion,” in which residents became closer because of tragedy.
Residents also became more attentive to issues such as heart disease, blood pressure problems and diabetes that otherwise might have remained undiagnosed.
“It was influential in making sure more people sought medical treatment than before the chlorine accident,” Sanders said.
The study’s principal investigator, USC assistant professor Lucy Annang, said the 7,000-resident Graniteville-Warrenville-Vaucluse community remains strong despite the tribulations its residents have endured.
Recovery and healing will take time, she said, but community spirit is pushing those efforts forward.
“This can be a model for future disasters and how other communities can help recover in the future,” she said.