Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014 01:10 pm est

NYPD partners with US Department of Energy to protect subways

Posted on May 5, 2013 | by Jacqueline Hsia


The New York City Police Department is joining forces with the U.S. Department of Energy in the Brookhaven National Laboratory to study how chemical weapons could be deployed in the air of the New York subway system.

Paul Kalb, head of the environmental research and technology division in Brookhaven explained that researchers will be releasing seven different harmless perfluorocarbon tracers for 30 minutes from various locations both aboveground and underground in subway tracks. The tracers will then be measured by more than 200 air samplers throughout the city. The study will be taking place over the course of three days from July 8 through July 28, weather conditions permitting.

“[Brookhaven National Laboratory] has unique capabilities and 30 years of expertise to track low concentrations of perfluorocarbon tracers in the air and, thus, can help assess the movement of toxic materials that could be released accidentally or via a terror threat,” Kalb said.

Perfluorocarbon tracer gases (PFTs) contain no health or environmental hazards. They are non-toxic, inert, odorless, invisible and have been used to study airflow since the 1980s. They have also been used for medical applications.

Tests will be conducted in all five boroughs and will be funded by a $3.4 million transit security grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

Brookhaven and the NYPD will be working together, but the first will be heading the experiment with the help of about 100 student interns and faculty members from colleges in New York City who will help with the logistical challenges of completing the study. They will also be joined by researchers from Argonne and Los Alamos National Laboratories, along with meteorologists and engineers. This will be the largest airflow study ever conducted to understand the risks of airborne contaminants.

Brookhaven and the NYPD hope that the investigation will generate information about how toxic materials may travel through the subways and the city, so that emergency management personnel can make efficient decisions about how to ensure public safety.

“The NYPD works for the best but plans for the worst when it comes to potentially catastrophic attacks such as ones employing radiological contaminants or weaponized anthrax,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly in a public statement. “This field study with Brookhaven’s outstanding expertise will help prepare and safeguard the city’s population in the event of an actual attack.”

The MTA and NYPD are working closely together to plan and carry out the study in the 21 subway lines and stations, as well as preparing for street-level research. It will have no effect on the general public and commuters. While airflow studies have been conducted in subways in Manhattan, Boston and Washington, D.C. in the past, none have been as extensive as the one planned by Brookhaven.

Brookhaven and the NYPD are focusing on the effects of dispersion from chemical and biological weapons agents, but this will also help the city understand other airborne hazards, such as smoke or chemical fumes. Results will also help the police figure out how to locate CBR equipment and improve evacuation and emergency-response strategies.

Jacqueline Hsia is a staff writer. Email her at


  • Mark Debeni

    Non-Toxic is NOT the same as Low-Toxic.

    For more information on perfluorocarbon tracer and its use, click here:

    Additionally, experiments like this should be done after hours. IT is unreasonable and unnecessary to do this during regular business hours. NYPD should know better.

    Please stay out of the subways in July! I have a feeling something might go wrong.

profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.