WARRENVILLE — Only a day after Dr. Erik Svendsen started his job with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and University of South Carolina in 2005, disaster struck Graniteville.

In January of 2005, a train accident exposed residents and wildlife in the surrounding area in Graniteville to chlorine gas.

Studies are now underway to gather information on the long-term health impacts it may have on those who were near the site of the catastrophe on that day.

Svendsen quickly got involved. He became the principal investigator with the Graniteville Recovery and Chlorine Epidemiology Study, also known as GRACE, and he was the guest speaker at the Midland Valley Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday at Bobby's Bar-B-Q. He gave an update on the study and said the study is still looking for several hundred more previous employees of Avondale Mills to participate.

Svendsen said preliminary testing shows those closest to the incident experienced aging of their lungs or loss of lung capacity four times faster than the normal rate a year after the accident. Two years after the tragedy, their lungs aged about two years faster than the normal rate. Svendsen said the study will look to see if those individuals regain a little bit of their lung capacity with time, and if they revert to a normal aging rate.

Most importantly, the study has had several people come for testing who didn't show any symptoms, but clinical deficiencies were discovered in some of those individuals' lung functions. Svendsen said it's important to test everyone who may have been affected by the chlorine gas.

Svendsen said some people are also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the accident and react negatively to the sound of a train.

Participants of the GRACE study receive three series of pulmonary diagnostic tests once per year. Each series can cost up to $2,500, but participants would get this testing at no cost. The study is sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The study is a collaboration Tulane University, USC, Medical University of South Carolina, Georgia Regents University, University of Georgia and the Graniteville Community Coalition.

The GRACE study center is located at 50 Canal St., Suite 14 in Graniteville. For more information, call the center at 803-663-5004 or visit www.gracestudycenter.com.

Amy Banton is the County beat reporter and has been with the Aiken Standard since May 2010.