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Texas Lags on Plant Blast Injury Survey

DALLAS (AP) — More than three months after a Texas fertilizer plant exploded, killing 15 people and hurting hundreds, the state still has not started surveying blast injuries despite interest from state and federal officials.

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Those officials say a survey of the injuries from the April explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. could help understand how many other people in the U.S. might be in similar danger, as well as provide a look at how the triage and trauma system worked that evening and advance research about blast injuries, the Dallas Morning News reported (http://dallasne.ws/1c1hbbU ).

Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services can't definitively say how many people were hurt in the explosion, which was so strong it registered as a small earthquake and wiped out swaths of the rural town. An unofficial count estimates more than 300 were injured.

"There is not a public health necessity to having that number now," Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman with the state health department, told the newspaper.

In 1995, though, state officials immediately began tracking casualties after an Oklahoma City federal building was bombed, killing 168 people.

Texas' health department did reach out to the director of the McLennan County Health Department, Sherry Williams, about doing such a study after a county epidemiologist indicated it was a good idea. Williams replied with questions about how the study would be done, adding "I want to make sure this is not a hunting/blaming expedition."

A week after the explosion, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emailed the state health department offering to help with such a study, emphasizing its importance.

"Understanding the patterns of injury and risk factors for poor outcomes, as well as how the triage and trauma system worked in West, Texas, would be invaluable to advance our understanding of blast injuries," a federal injury specialist wrote. "Please let us know if we can be of any assistance."

About two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, the state's health department began marking blueprints to determine where the dead and injured were after the blast. They surveyed 1,800 doctors and 850 people who worked nearby and reviewed the records of ambulances, emergency rooms and hospitals. Within 16 months, a report describing the deaths and injuries, including medical care costs, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Texas' injury investigation is still in the planning stages, and it remains unclear when officials will begin to collect data.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com


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