Scientists Conduct Bio-Attack Test In Boston Subway - News - @

Scientists Conduct Bio-Attack Test In Boston Subway

Federal officials say similar tests were conducted in 2008 in the Washington, D.C., area, serving as an excellent contrast to the Boston study.


RODRIQUE NGOWI, Associated Press Writer | | Friday, August 20, 2010

BOSTON - Scientists are releasing gases and fluorescent particles into Boston's subway tunnels on Friday to study how toxic chemicals and lethal biological agents could spread through the nation's oldest subway system in a terrorist attack.

It's part of a weeklong study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to figure out ways to quickly minimize the impact of an airborne assault on the nation's 15 subway systems and protect the nation's infrastructure. U.S. subway systems include 810 miles of track in tunnels and accounted for about 3.45 billion trips taken last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

The scientists are monitoring concentration of the gases - which are invisible to the naked eye and nontoxic - and particles as they move throughout the system and then up into the streets above, pushed by turbulence created by trains thundering through the tunnels. Researchers use electronic devices to take air samples at more than 20 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority stations and in subway cars.

Test results will be used to craft ways to quickly detect an attack so authorities can shut down subways to limit the spread of contaminants.

Federal officials say similar tests were conducted in 2008 in the Washington, D.C., area, serving as an excellent contrast to the Boston study. The Massachusetts subway system, which opened its first tunnels in 1897, is poorly ventilated, while Washington's is relatively modern and well-ventilated, DHS officials said.

Abel Girmai, an aspiring actor from Cambridge who rode Boston's Red Line on Friday, said he thinks about the possibility of an attack "all the time" and supports studying how a biological attack would play out in the subway system.

"Anything that has to do with security, I'm with it," Girmai said.

"I think at certain times, we do get in a comfort zone. Americans are like that. We don't think something like that will happen, but we have to get out of that mode."

Donna Derochers, a legal secretary from Halifax, said she wasn't thrilled with the idea of the study.

"It's scary because you are going to find out what could actually happen. You might not want to know," she said. "You may not want to ride the 'T' ever again."

Though the study focuses on the deliberate release of chemical or biological agents, it also will help researchers understand airflow characteristics for smoke or unintentional spills of chemicals or fuels, DHS said in a statement.

The potency of a chemical or biological attack on underground tunnels was demonstrated in 1995, when a Japanese cult used the deadly sarin nerve gas to attack the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and injuring hundreds of others.

In the U.S., authorities thwarted an al-Qaida-sponsored plot to carry out three coordinated suicide bombing attacks on New York City subways last September.

"The MBTA is working closely with our federal partners in order to make the transit system as safe as possible," MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan said.

Physicists and engineers specializing in aerosol physics conducted similar tests in Boston about eight months ago. The tests are being done in both winter and summer months because temperatures and humidity can affect the movement of airborne contaminants, said Teresa Lustig, program manager at the DHS's Science and Technology Directorate.

This time, officials are also testing the effectiveness of some of the proposed strategies crafted after scientists analyzed the initial tests, Lustig said.

In both studies, researchers released plumes of sulfur hexafluoride, a common tracer gas used for indoor and outdoor air testing, and perfluorocarbon gas, which is used in eye surgery and other medical applications.

The study involves 30 researchers from: Argonne, Ill.-based National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Arlington, Va.-based ICx Technologies, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory of the United Kingdom and Chemistry Centre of Perth, western Australia.

Related Links:

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, Boston, hazmat, terrorism, wmd training

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide Featured Companies

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

Innovation & Advancement

This is the seventh year of the EMS 10 Innovators in EMS program, jointly sponsored by Physio-Control and JEMS.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Salt Lake City Firefighters Injured in Firehouse Fire

Nine sent to a hospital with smoke inhalation.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Pennsylvania Paramedic Killed in the Line of Duty

West End Ambulance medic killed at accident scene.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Wesleyan Students Hospitalized for Overdose

11 students transported to local hospitals.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Rigs Going in Service from EMS Today 2015

Snap shots of some of the vehicles at EMS Today that will be on the streets soon
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Florida Hospital Fire

Fire halts construction project at Tampa cancer center.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >