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Graniteville chlorine spill could have long-term impact on lungs

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Saturday, May 21, 2011

GRANITEVILLE, S.C.---With a clip of the scissors, the GRACE Study Center was officially open for business. A mob of locals swarmed in for free blood pressure tests and lung screenings. One was Ansel Gunter. The test has special meaning to him.

"We had to put the towels on all the doors, but you could smell it," he told News 12.

He's talking about the 60 tons of chlorine gas that spewed from the wreckage of a Norfolk-Southern train six years ago.

He lived in Graniteville at that time, only a few blocks away from Ground Zero.

"Four deputy sheriffs come by knocking on the door. They say, 'You either gotta go now, or leave your name and number so when you die they can come in and claim the body and know who you are,'" he said.

He left and suffered no immediate injuries, but to this day, he's still concerned about his health.

"What's going to be the effect nine, ten, fifteen, or twenty years from now," he said.

And that's precisely what doctor Andrew Mazzoli wants to find out too.

"We want to find out what the extent of lung disability, if any, has occured in relationship to where they were at the time of the spill," he said.

Doctors say people who inhale large amounts of chlorine gas could lose large amounts of lung function.

"How is it affecting inflammation? How is it affecting the lung's ability to move air in and out? How much air it can move in and out," he said.

As for Gunter, his lung screening turned out good today. Despite the accident that devastated a small American town, Gunter hasn't given up on the city of Graniteville.

"I'm not originally from Graniteville, I'm from Batesburg-Leesville area. That's my hometown up there, but this is my home now," he said.

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