I revisited the Graniteville chlorine rail disaster while organizing a tabletop hazmat drill with the
Maricopa County LEPC. What I found needs to be examined.
Following the January 2005 train wreck, the Avondale Mills textile plant, the economic lifeblood
of the community, laid off thousands of workers. Company officials spent more than $140 million on cleaning,
repairs and damage mitigation, only to find that new equipment brought to the plant quickly corroded because
chlorine was still present and reacting with other agents.
On May 22, 2006 Avondale Millsí CEO Stephen Felker announced that it would permanently cease operations
at all of its plants, corporate and sales offices by no later July 25, 2006 resulting in the unemployment
of more than 4,000 workers across four states. Mr. Felker cited foreign competition and the derailment of
January 6, 2005 as the primary reasons for the company's failure.
That the corrosive effects of the chlorine from such a large release would last so long comes as a bit of
a surprise. The chlorine reacted with moisture to form hydrochloric acid, but even after time, one would
expect that this would diminish. In assessing the damages from a large-scale chlorine release, emergency
responders and emergency planning agencies should look for this lasting effect. The corrosive effects
could harm pavement, concrete, industrial infrastructure, and even residential structures. A much more
detailed decontamination, including pH samplings, should be undertaken in the recovery phase of operations
to prevent such devastation.