Feds start deploying non-toxic gases in NYC parks, subways as part of bioterror study

NYC Subway
Photo credit iStock/Getty Images

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Officials with the Department of Homeland Security will arrive in New York City on Monday to test how the subway system and other areas would handle a chemical or biological terror attack.

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Times Square, Union Square and the Oculus transit hub in Lower Manhattan will be among the 120 locations in the five boroughs that will be tested as part of the Urban Threat Dispersion program.

Most of the locations will be above ground, including some parks, according to the department.

During the test, non-toxic gas tracer material will be released into the air, mimicking how a more lethal substance might spread throughout the public transit system. Different sensors will monitor the air flow and impact.

The MTA stresses the test materials pose no risk to public health and have been used in prior evaluations.

Testing will take place between Oct. 18 and Oct. 29.

"During the course of testing, customers using the system may see staff performing test and sampling operations," the MTA said. "Customers may see signage identifying specific locations involved in the study as they travel around New York City."

The MTA along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, various New York City agencies, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Lincoln Laboratories will participate in the air sampling study, which the transit agency notes is "part of a broader federal initiative aimed at yielding actionable data for emergency preparedness authorities."

This won't be the first evaluation of its kind.

A similar test was conducted in 2016 and back in the mid-1960s in a secret test held by the Army scientists.

Several years later the New York Times reported the simulated poison raced up subway tunnels from 15th Street to 58th Street within minutes.