Health fair monitors effects of chlorine spill

Staff photo by Melanie Herbold Students from Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, Byrd Elementary School, Warrenville Elementary School and Midland Valley High School submitted drawings to be judged by those attending the health fair in Graniteville on Saturday.

The train wreck in Graniteville that occurred eight years ago on Jan. 6 still has lasting effects on those who were within a short distance of the chlorine spill. A health fair to test the lungs of residents who may have been affected by this tragic event was held on Saturday.

Porter Walker, who was working at Avondale Mills at the time, was affected by the spill.

“I was away from my home for 13 days after the train wreck and now have breathing problems,” Walker said. “I never had asthma before, but after I went to a hospital in Charlottesville, Va., and I went through breathing testing and I had developed asthma from the wreck. Every year since then, I have bronchitis around this time.”

Walker wasn’t the only person in his family who was affected.

“My wife got very sick and she was taken to Aiken Regional Medical Centers and treated,” Walker said. “She already had asthma, but this just made it worse. It also affected my younger brother who drove right through (the chlorine gas) that night. He was in ICU for four days and has developed sleep apnea. My two grandkids have breathing problems, as well. The only one not affected was my sister, Louisiana Sanders.”

Although he and his family have developed health issues, he still has a positive outlook.

“I worked at the mill for 40 years, and a year after the wreck, my livelihood was gone,” Walker said. “I’m blessed more than others who lost their livelihood. I got entitlement after it happened, but others didn’t. I don’t have much to complain about; I’m all right. I’m a survivor because of the crisis. Three to four other friends lost their livelihoods and that troubled me more than anything.”

Sanders started up the Graniteville Community Coalition following the train wreck.

“It was organized after the spill to promote health relief for the community,” Sanders said. “Dr. Svendsen became acquainted with the organization and helped the community to the get the grant to help people. They did that, and now we have come up with the GRACE Study Center (Graniteville Recovery and Chlorine Epidemiology).”

The main goal, Sanders said, is to reach out and help people.

“I would like to see a grant where we could have a health clinic that people can go to and still be seen even if they don’t have money for it. That is my dream coming out of GRACE,” Sanders said. “People can get screenings, but if further treatment is needed, they don’t have doctors that they can go to because they don’t always have money.”

There were many vendors and people who came out for both the health fair and the Shepeard Community Blood Center blood drive. Brian Randall and Wade Baggett provided entertainment for the day. Christian Heritage donated the sound system.

“I’m excited that Shepeard was here,” said Edie Stone, administrator and director of the GRACE Study Center. “We had a total of 23 participants. I fell in love with the children’s artwork. Students from Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, Byrd Elementary, Warrenville Elementary and even Midland Valley High School submitted artwork to be judged. ... We had good participation and those who did come out were able to get some help. This is our main focus – doing what we can for the community.”

The art contest not only serves to get kids involved, but their parents, as well.

“It encourages parents to come, and it’s a nice way to communicate to schools that we are still here. We are a resource that you can access,” said Lori Fryder, study coordinator for the Chlorine Study.

Ultimately, this event was not only to screen individuals but to promote awareness.

The purpose of this is to promote awareness and to make mill workers and the community aware of the resources, Tina Bevington, community investigator, said.

“Mill workers from 1980 on, if they’ve had three lung screenings before the spill, can get $2,000 to $2,500 worth of testing,” she said. “Because (the train wreck) wasn’t declared a disaster, there was no funding to help the victims, which is what these grants will do.”

Kathy Clark, study coordinator and Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Carolina, came from Wyoming to help in Graniteville.

“I heard about what happened here and the people of Graniteville made me want to be here,” Clark said. “It’s tragic what happened when you hear about the stories, but these people are so resilient and able to come back. What happened to these people is unthinkable but they are helping to answer many questions, and they don’t even know how helpful they are. They are pretty special, and I am very honored.”