In an effort to assess the way air flows between the subway and the surface, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and the NYPD launched the first day of the Subway-Surface Air Flow Exchange today. The tests involve air sampling throughout the city’s subway system and the release and tracking of harmless gases called perfluorocarbons. The gases were dispersed this morning during the rush hour commute, and the air sampling is expected to wrap by 3 p.m. today.
The S-SAFE study has been funded through a Department of Homeland Security grant and is designed to better prepare the city for a potential gas attack. “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,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said in a statement about the program. “This field study with Brookhaven’s outstanding expertise will help prepare and safeguard the city’s population in the event of an actual attack.”
According to the MTA, this study is the largest one focused ever urban airflow ever conducted and will help researchers “better understand the risks posed by airborne contaminants.” In the past, researchers have determined that air quality is ostensibly the same below ground as it is above, but the way air is dispersed throughout the city — through the push and pull of trains — has yet to be studied. I doubt the S-SAFE results will be made public, but the findings would make for an interesting look at how air or gases from the Rockaways could reach Times Square in an hour.