MBTA subway commuters may notice scientific equipment and researchers with electronic monitoring devices around the system August 20 -27 as part of a scientific study of airflow in the underground portion of the system conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This is the second phase of a study first conducted in December 2009.
The purpose of the study is to gather data on the behavior of airborne contaminants if they were to be released into the subway—part of Homeland Security's commitment to preparedness and protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure. Commuters may notice a variety of electronic equipment positioned in stations or being hand-carried by researchers.
In order to collect data on the behavior of airborne contaminants, the study involves releasing non-toxic, inert, odorless gas and particle tracers into the subway system. Particle and gas concentrations will be sampled in more than 20 stations and in subway cars across the MBTA subway system. The deliberate release of chemical or biological agents is of primary concern, but the study also helps researchers understand airflow for smoke or unintentional spills of chemicals or fuels. This research can be used by the MBTA in developing evacuation, ventilation, and other incident response plans.
The study will not disrupt normal activities or present any inconvenience to the public.