When workers clocked in for the graveyard shift on January 5, 2005, in Graniteville at the Avondale Mills plant, none expected it would be the last time some of them would punch a time clock.

Nine people in the small South Carolina town had witnessed their last sunset.

A combination of chlorine gas, unchecked railroad switches and disregard for the safety of the citys residents, two Norfolk and Southern trains collided sending a toxic cloud of green chlorine gas over the city and into the woods.

Around 2:30 in the morning of January 6, Michael Reed was working at the mill when a friend, John Laird, walked over to talk about hearing a train crash.

Another employee said he had seen green stuff. A third worker, Charles Shealey, also spoke about something happening and the group of mill employees 15 in all raced for the parking lot.

We couldnt unlock the gate to get to our trucks, Reed said. By then the green stuff had moved through the fence and gotten stronger. We all put our heads on the ground.

That was definitely the erroneous thing to do. The green stuff was chlorine gas flowing from a tank car in the train wreckage. Heavier than air, chlorine gas rests on the ground.

Laird and Shealey didnt wait. They sprinted toward the woods. Their bodies were found later amid the Sabal Palmettos, South Carolinas state tree. The pair was among eight persons who perished when the training moving the chlorine crashed into a train idling on a siding near the plant. Another would die later.

Tony DeLoach was found dead at home. Joseph Stone of Quebec, and employed by JW Express Trucking, died in the sleeper cab on his 18-wheeler. Rusty Rushton had stepped out for a cigarette. His body was found on the loading dock the next day.

Graniteville turned into a ghost town as investigators, suited out in hazardous-materials gear, made the occasional visit when the chlorine level would permit.

Avondale Mills employed around 400 people on the graveyard shift. The mill, which operated 24-hours a day never recovered.

In addition to the nine people killed that night over 550 were injured. More than 5,400 persons were evacuated from their homes for over a week.

Graniteville

Graniteville is a census-designated place in Aiken County, South Carolina. In 2010 the population was just over 2,500. The community is part of Augusta, Georgias metro area, also known as Central Savannah River Area.

Established in 1845 when William Gregg built the Souths first large-scale cotton mill, Graniteville got its name as most of the original buildings were constructed from blue granite.

Chlorine

Chlorine is a corrosive, greenish-yellow gas widely used in water purification and sewage treatment. A few breaths of air containing chlorine can be lethal even at one-thousand parts per million.

Exposure to as little as two parts per million cause coughing, shortness of breath and other symptoms. Individuals can smell chlorine when it is less than one part per million. Chlorine mixes easily with water and forms hypochlorous and hydrochloric acid when it blends with the moisture in the throat and lungs. Chlorine gas was one of the first gas weapons deployed in World War I.

FERC Writes Off the Poor and People of Color

Anyone that was alive in the 1970s and 1980s remembers the environmental dangers which seemed to lurk around every corner and poison the air and water.

Trumps administration is seeking to cut 25 percent from the EPAs funding. The White House aspires to eliminate 20 percent of the agencys workforce as well.

The 2018 fiscal year budget suggests eliminating funding which support a variety of applications, including those intended for low-income groups, minorities, and indigenous cultures.

In a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding another environmental matter, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), poor families and people of color were written off as the cost of doing business.

The DEIS stated that over half of the census tracts within one mile of the proposed pipeline have higher poverty rates than the statewide average. The FERC concluded that since so many poor and indigent lived within the blast zone, there would be no disproportionate share of high and adverse environmental or socioeconomic impacts if any.

In other words, if youre poor or black, theres no economic loss if you or your family are killed or your property destroyed by an environmental accident.

This zero out strategy will impact every neighborhood in America. The heaviest burden will be on the lives of low-earning Americans and people of color. Precisely the group that lives in Graniteville and along the proposed route of the ACP. Travis Nichols, a Greenpeace USA spokesman, calls the budget cut environmental racism in action.

The agencys 2017 budget is barely over $8 billion less than 1% of federal spending. The EPA has one of the smallest workforces in the federal government, employing about 15,000 persons.

The proposed cuts shouldnt be a shock. Trump has put together the most flagrantly polluter-friendly Cabinet in modern history.

I am an American freelance writer and ghostwriter now living the expat life in Argentina. Never far from my coffee and Marlboros, I am always interested in discussing future work opportunities. Email me at jandrewnelson2@gmail.com and join the million-or-so who follow my life and work on Twitter @ Journey_America.

My latest book, Dont Polish the Turd and Other Writing Tips is available on Amazon.

Thanks for being part of my wild and wonderful journey called life.

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