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 email@example.com.