Study finds dangerous levels of air pollution in NYC subways, PATH

Researchers at New York University found that underground mass transit riders and workers in New York City were being exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that NYC's transit system exposed riders to more inhaled pollutants than any other metropolitan subway system in the northeast.

Researchers from NYU's Grossman School of Medicine monitored the air at 71 subway stations in 12 transit lines during morning and evening rush hours in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., prior to the pandemic. 

The PATH system, which connects stations in Manhattan to several cities in New Jersey, had the highest airborne particle concentration at 392 micrograms per cubic meter. The MTA's subway system was second with 251 micrograms per cubic meter. Washington had the next highest levels at 145 micrograms per cubic meter, followed by Boston at 140 micrograms per cubic meter, according to a press release.

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The Christopher Street PATH station had the worst air quality with a level 77 times higher than the typical concentration of air pollutants in city air. The air at the station is comparable to that of forest fires and building demolition, according to the study.

Daily exposure of fine-particle concentrations exceeding 35 micrograms per cubic meter poses serious health hazards, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Workers and commuters may be at increased risk of heart and lung problems depending on the duration of exposure. Further research is needed, urged the researchers, to assess the potential health implications.

"We have conducted previous air quality testing on subway trains operating in our system and found no health risks, however, we will thoroughly review this study as the safety of customers and employees is always our highest priority," said MTA Communications Director Tim Minton in a statement to the NY Post.