preparations for potential long-term
study of Graniteville chlorine spill
School of Public Health researcher Dr. Erik Svendsen is laying the
groundwork for a potential long-term health study of the 2005
environmental disaster resulting from the Graniteville chlorine spill
and a related program to identify communities where environmental
factors are increasing the risks of environmental disease.
The Jan. 6, 2005, spill happed when a train carrying chemicals hit a
parked train in the Aiken County community. The impact released
poisonous chlorine gas from the moving train. The leak led to nine
deaths, hundreds of injuries and displaced thousands of residents.
Svendsen is in a unique position to successfully “merge public health
practice with public health research.”
“Many communities at-risk of environmental disease come to DHEC to
have their health questions answered, and DHEC always responds. But
sometimes there just is not enough science for anyone to answer those
questions completely,” Svendsen said “That is where academic researchers
may be able to help. By partnering with communities and DHEC, together
they may be able to help build the science base that will ultimately
help improve the public’s health.”
is a faculty member in the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology
and Biostatistics with a joint appointment as state environmental
epidemiologist for the South Carolina Department of Health and
He is affiliated with the Arnold School’s Center for Public Health
Preparedness, which is responsible for teaching and training the South
Carolina public health workforce in disaster preparedness.
Svendsen recently was awarded a three-year, $450,000 Mentored Public
Health Research Scientist Development Award from the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
These awards are considered evidence that the CDC has confidence in a
scientist’s potential and is willing to assist that person in developing
their research skills through a period of protected research and
Svendsen has long been interested in pulmonary disease and a key
career objective is to research the environmental determinants of
pulmonary diseases within South Carolina communities disproportionately
affected by them.
Developing the means to identify these areas and then cultivating
research partnerships between those communities, public health
practitioners, and academic researchers also is a goal of his.
To aid his public health research scientist development, Svendsen
will be mentored by a seven-member panel of scientists from allied
public health disciplines and led by Dr. John Vena, chair of the Arnold
School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
His other mentors are Drs. Charles Feigley, Robert McKeown, and
Wilfried Karmaus from the Arnold School, Dr. James Gibson from DHEC, Dr.
Dennis Ownby from the Medical College of Georgia, and Dr. Edward
Fitzgerald from SUNY-Albany.
Svendsen says the goal of the research component of his Development
Award is to gather enough background information to support a much
larger 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.
“This CDC award is a unique opportunity to prepare for the difficult
competition necessary to be awarded federal funding for long-term study
and tracking of health problems within the Graniteville community. By
working together, I hope that we take full advantage of this great
opportunity that the CDC has given us,” he said.