Fort Worth hotel explosion, gas leak and debris could affect public health

dfwnewsa | January 9, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Fort Worth hotel explosion, gas leak and debris could affect public health

Fort Worth firefighters and a MedStar paramedic transport a victim from an explosion at the Sandman Signature Fort Worth Downtown Hotel, 810 Houston St. on Jan. 8. (Courtesy photo | Glen Ellman, Fort Worth Fire Department)
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As first responders continue to investigate the cause of an explosion at the Sandman Signature Fort Worth Downtown Hotel, public health experts say the fallout could cause issues for people’s health. 

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Once an explosion occurs, there is a wave of overpressure that is pushed out and causes glass and pieces of wood to be blown everywhere. Even though the majority of the debris was shattered glass, bystanders should stay away from it as it could contain toxic chemicals, said Dr. Marilyn Howarth with the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. 

“The [Sandman hotel] is a historic building, and an older building would have a lot of things that you would not necessarily want to be blowing around, like asbestos and lead,” she said. “Those are significant contributors to the main health concerns of an explosion of a building.” 

The hotel, first called the W.T. Waggoner Building, was designed by Fort Worth architecture firm Sanguinet & Staats. The building was among the tallest in Texas when it opened in 1920.

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Before 1978, lead-based paints were used primarily for residential and commercial buildings. Anything built before then is likely to have some lead-based paint, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

High levels of exposure to lead can severely damage a person’s brain and central nervous system, according to the World Health Organization. 

“Even if the building’s most recent coats of paint are lead-free, the earlier ones aren’t. When it blows up, it ends up in the air and tends to fall to the ground fairly close to the building,” Howarth said. 

Fort Worth firefighters continue to clear debris from inside the hotel and the surrounding downtown area, with streets expected to be closed for several days. 

What is a natural gas leak?

Natural gas is a fossil energy source composed of methane, but it can contain non-hydrocarbon gases and natural gas liquids. Leaks are considered dangerous since they can build and can cause explosions, fires and might release greenhouse gases into the air. 

Signs of a gas leak include the smell of rotten eggs, hissing sound near a gas line, or white clouds in standing water. If you smell gas, contact Texas Gas Service at 800-959-5325. 

When someone is in close proximity to a gas leak, it can cause a reduction in oxygen that leads to physical symptoms, including abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, nausea, chest pain, fatigue, ringing in ears and breathing difficulties.

In serious cases, the gas can fill the lungs, said Dr. John Mills, associate professor of family medicine at UNT Health Science Center’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“Worst-case scenario, the natural gas could replace the oxygen in your lungs, but you’d have to be in a cramped and enclosed space for that to happen,” he said. 

But, bystanders to the explosion shouldn’t expect to experience symptoms, unless they were in the building or within a few feet. When gas leaks outside, it dilutes quickly, said Mills. 

“Anyone who was blocks away or just heard the noise wouldn’t be expected to see any kind of effects,” he said. 

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If people experience any of the symptoms from a gas leak, they should call 911 or visit an emergency room. 

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

David Moreno is the health reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact him at david.moreno@fortworthreport.org or @davidmreports on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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