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Background: On January 6, 2005, a train derailed in Graniteville, South Carolina, releasing nearly 60,000 kg of toxic chlorine gas. The disaster left nine people dead and was responsible for hundreds of hospitalizations and outpatient visits in the subsequent weeks. While chlorine gas primarily affects the respiratory tract, a growing body of evidence suggests that acute exposure may also cause vascular injury and cardiac toxicity. Here, we describe the incidence of cardiovascular hospitalizations among residents of the zip codes most affected by the chlorine gas plume, and compare the incidence of cardiovascular discharges in the years leading up to the event (2000–2004) to the incidence in the years following the event (2005–2014).

Methods: De-identified hospital discharge information was collected from the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office for individuals residing in the selected zip codes for the years 2000 to 2014. A quasi-experimental study design was utilized with a population-level interrupted time series model to examine hospital discharge rates for Graniteville-area residents for three cardiovascular diagnoses: hypertension (HTN), acute myocardial infarction (AMI), and coronary heart disease (CHD). We used linear regression with autoregressive error correction to compare slopes for pre- and post-spill time periods. Data from the 2000 and 2010 censuses were used to calculate rates and to provide information on potential demographic shifts over the course of the study.

Results: A significant increase in hypertension-related hospital discharge rates was observed for the years following the Graniteville chlorine spill (slope 8.2, p < 0.001). Concurrent changes to CHD and AMI hospital discharge rates were in the opposite direction (slopes −3.2 and −0.3, p < 0.01 and 0.14, respectively). Importantly, the observed trend cannot be attributed to an aging population.

Conclusions: An unusual increase in hypertension-related hospital discharge rates in the area affected by the Graniteville chlorine spill contrasts with national and state-level trends. A number of factors related to the spill may be contributing the observation: disaster-induced hypertension, healthcare services access issues, and, possibly, chlorine-induced susceptibility to vascular pathologies. Due to the limitations of our data, we cannot determine whether the individuals who visited the hospital were the ones exposed to chlorine gas, however, the finding warrants additional research. Future studies are needed to determine the etiology of the increase and whether individuals exposed to chlorine are at a heightened risk for hypertensive heart disease.

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APA Citation

Howell, A. V., Vena, J. E., Cai, B., Lackland, D. T., Ingram, L. A., Lawson, A. B., & Svendsen, E. R. (2019). Temporal Trends in Cardiovascular Hospital Discharges Following a Mass Chlorine Exposure Event in Graniteville, South Carolina. Frontiers in Public Health, 7, 112.