New Research Finds Toxic Air in NYC Subways

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The air in some New York City subway platforms contained “two to seven times” more hazardous particles than the air aboveground.

New research has found that the New York City subway system contains toxic air quality, according to a new report in City and State. The research, published by NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, took measurements of the air quality in 71 subway stations across the city, as well as in Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston, during the morning rush hour and the evening rush hour. It found that samples collected from ten Port Authority stations and three Metropolitan Transportation Authority stations “were found to contain two to seven times more ‘hazardous metals and organic particles’ than were detected in air samples collected outside,” City and State reports.

One of the study’s senior authors, Dr. Terry Gordon, a professor at NYU’s Department of Environmental Medicine, told the guardian of the study’s results, “It was the worst pollution ever measured in a subway station, higher than some of the worst days in Beijing or Delhi.” As City and State notes, the Christopher Street Port Authority station “contained 77 times more than the normal concentration of ‘potentially dangerous particles'” than air above the station. Gordon and the study’s other authors warned that the toxic air quality in New York’s subway stations may pose health risks to riders. “As riders of one of the busiest, and apparently dirtiest, metro systems in the country, New Yorkers in particular should be concerned about the toxins they are inhaling as they wait for trains to arrive,” he said.

The study identified chemicals in the subway system’s air like organic carbon, which “has been linked to a heightened risk of developing asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease,” as well as iron. City and State notes that this was not the only instance of research uncovering toxic chemicals in the subway system. A 2005 study conducted by a Columbia University researcher “found that the presence of the metals iron, manganese, and chromium were 100 times greater in the subway than in the outdoor air.” This study did not offer any conclusions about the potential health effects of these pollutants.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the MTA said that the agency will conduct a review the study’s results. “The subways are part of New York City, which is designated by USEPA as an area that includes elevated levels of the same size particulates identified in the NYU study,” he said. “Notably, study researchers sampled the equivalent of 0.6% of the system – just three of 472 stations and four trains from close to 1,000 that move through NYC Transit every day. The MTA is currently piloting technology solutions, as a result of pandemic-related innovation, that will further enhance filtration in subway cars.”

The study of air pollutants in New York City’s subway system is available via NYU Langone.

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