The subway gas test this month, a joint effort between the New York City Police Department and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory aims to examine the specifics of airflow in the city’s mass transit system so as to better to plan for “airborne contaminants.”
Essentially, it seems, the subway gas test — during which straphangers will be exposed to gases in a controlled experiment — is part of New York City’s ongoing measures to plan for and prevent attacks in its fragile infrastructure.
Brookhaven posted a press release about July’s subway gas test, saying the initiative is the “largest urban airflow study ever to better understand the risks posed by airborne contaminants, including chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) weapons as they are dispersed in the atmosphere and in the City’s subway system.”
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly commented in the release, adding that the subway gas test will be instrumental in arming the city against unknowns in the event of an attack on the trains and system:
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 … 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 test will involve somewhere in the vicinity of 200 sampling devices, and researchers will emit low levels of safe gases called perfluorocarbons systemwide during three non-consecutive days in July.
All five boroughs will be affected, and when weather conditions are assessed, the public will be notified a day ahead of the three subway gas test days.
The study isn’t the first of its kind — decades ago, the city used lightbulbs and an anthrax-like germ (also benign) to measure how quickly an anthrax attack would permeate the NYC subway.
The perfluorocarbon tracer gases used in the subway gas test are odorless and harmless, and have been used in similar activities since the 1980s.