Posttraumatic stress and tendency to panic in the aftermath of the chlorine gas disaster in Graniteville, South Carolina
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Relatively little is known about psychological effects of environmental hazard disasters. This study examines the development of posttraumatic stress (PTS) and tendency to limited panic attack after a large chlorine spill in a community.
In January 2005, a large chlorine spill occurred in Graniteville, SC. Acute injuries were quantified on an ordinal severity scale. Eight to ten months later, participating victims completed the Short Screening Scale for PTSD (n = 225) and the Holden Psychological Screening Inventory (HPSI) (n = 193) as part of a public health intervention. Forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) and forced vital capacity were likewise measured via spirometry. Two sets of univariate logistic regression models were fit to detect independent effects of each potential covariate and risk factor on PTS score and tendency to panic. A supplemental analysis examined whether poor lung function may be a confounder and/or effect modifier of the effect of acute injury on PTS score and panic.
Of those who completed psychological screening, 36.9% exhibited PTS symptoms. FEV1, acute injury, and the HPSI psychiatric subscale were independently associated with increased PTS score. Acute injury severity scale and female sex were associated with tendency to panic. Immediate acute injury severity and poor lung function later were independently associated with PTS symptomotology.
The high prevalence of PTS and endorsement of tendency to panic within our sample show a need for mental health treatment after a chemical hazard disaster. Mental health personnel should be considerate of those with serious physical injuries.
KeywordsChlorine Disaster Posttraumatic stress disorder Panic
This work was supported jointly with funding from the environmental emergency fund within the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the University of South Carolina’s Center for Public Health Preparedness. The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Nancy Whittle, Marge Heim, Robert McKeown and Jane Stafford to these public health efforts. This work could not have been successfully performed without the many voluntary grief counselors who were available during the public health screenings and who assisted with the administration of these mental health questionnaires. We are indebted to the Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Clinic for providing these volunteers and for hosting these screenings along with our two other gracious hosts, Graniteville First Baptist Church and Bethlehem Baptist Church, both in Graniteville. Without the help of these hosts we would not have been able to do this work.
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