Bombs going off during an iconic, crowded event like the Boston Marathon: It makes all of us think about the last baseball or football game we attended, the last large celebration or event in a big city. "That could have been me," we think as victims are carried off in wheelchairs and stretchers. "That could be my mom, son, brother, neighbor."
We empathize with those families whose lives were forever changed in a moment. We are outraged at the bombers and their motives, following the search for them as if we have a stake in the outcome. Pray for Boston (Twitter: #prayforboston) has become a familiar slogan.
But when 14 people are killed and 160 injured in a tiny Texas town, and that town literally is ripped apart by an explosion, where is the outrage? Where are the cries for justice for the workers at the West Fertilizer Co., owned by Adair Grain Inc., who were just doing their jobs like any other day? Where is the grief for the first responders who were killed doing what first responders do: heading straight for danger to try to save lives and property? Where is the outrage and concern for the nearby neighbors of the facility, whose homes were destroyed and some of whom lost their lives?
In 2006, the facility was cited by EPA for not filing a risk management plan on time. More recently, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality logged a complaint against the facility following reports of a smell of ammonia coming from the facility. OSHA has not inspected the West Fertilizer Co. for at least 10 years, despite the fact that ammonium nitrate can be extremely volatile and is used as an explosive.
"Ammonium nitrate is probably familiar to most people as the explosive that was used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995," said Dr. Ronald Smaldone, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Texas at Dallas. "It is used mostly as a fertilizer, but also as a commercial explosive for mining and excavating. Generally, compounds with a high nitrogen content are explosive under the right conditions, owing to the fact that they form nitrogen gas as a byproduct, which is extremely stable, therefore releasing a large amount of energy – an explosion – into the surrounding environment."
The massive blast was felt as far away as 50 miles, and registered as a 2.1 earthquake on on the U.S. Geological Survey web site. The tiny town of West, Texas, population 2,800, is suffering and will continue to suffer. While we can empathize with the people of Boston, most of whom are grieving for people they've never met, the people of West are grieving for their friends, coworkers, loved ones and neighbors. Everyone in that town experienced loss.
"Over the next month, I'd be looking for signs of acute stress disorder (ASD) among those who were personally affected by this tragedy," said Simon A. Rego, PsyD, ABPP, ACT, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center. He said ASD is characterized by four groups of symptoms: dissociative symptoms (e.g., feeling detached from others or feeling like things are dreamlike);
2) re-experiencing symptoms (intrusive thoughts or images, flashbacks, nightmares); 3) avoidance of reminders of the explosion (e.g., not talking about it, not watching the news); and 4) feeling an increase in anxiety symptoms.
"These symptoms can occur anywhere from 2 days to a maximum of 4 weeks after the tragedy. While not the only psychological disorder possible, ASD is quite common after traumatic events such as this one," said Rego.
Certainly, pray for Boston. But please remember West, Texas in your prayers as well.
There is a relief fund set up for the victims in West, Texas. For more information, contact Point West Bank & Trust at (254) 826-5333 or State National Bank at (254) 826-3741.
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