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Red Cross collects more blood than it can store

The American Red Cross has a 10-day supply of blood on hand because of the rush of donations after the Sept. 11 attacks. But it also has thrown out some blood because it couldn't be frozen in time, officials said Sunday.

The organization that supplies about half of America's blood, which previously had only a one to three day supply, has both built up the inventory of liquid blood to 10 days, and also frozen about a half-day supply.

It hopes to freeze more, to ensure adequate blood in case of national emergencies, senior vice president Bill Blaul said Sunday.

Some blood experts have criticized the Red Cross for encouraging more donations than needed to treat the relatively few survivors in New York, after the Sept. 11 attacks. They have raised repeated concerns that the Red Cross would be forced to discard blood before it could be used.

Of the blood collected, the organization has destroyed less than 10 percent of the platelets and red cells and none of the plasma, Blaul said.

But some of the Red Cross' local blood-bank directors disputed that, saying more than 10 percent was destroyed, the Washington Post reported in Sunday's editions. Several directors told the Post that even more blood was reaching the end of its shelf life and would soon be destroyed.

The Red Cross had to destroy the blood because the organization did not have the resources to freeze it before its shelf life of 42 days had passed, Blaul said. Freezing blood takes both medical expertise and storage space.

Several blood-bank directors said they had, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, encouraged the Red Cross to not actively seek donations until it had a plan in place to freeze the excess, the Post reported.

Blaul said the Red Cross felt it would have been criticized if it had not stockpiled more blood at a time when more terror attacks are possible. It continued to actively solicit and receive donations.

Since Sept. 11, the Red Cross has received about 1.4-million pints of donated blood. A person usually donates one pint per donation visit.

It has frozen more than 10,000 pints of red cells, or about a half-day supply, Blaul said. With enough trained people, it has the capacity to freeze up to 100,000 pints, or a four- to five-day supply, and is hoping to build up to that.

The 37,000-employee American Red Cross provides almost half the nation's blood supply. Local, independent blood agencies collect the other half.