Let's Talk About Air Pollution on the Subway

Let's Talk About Air Pollution on the Subway

Hey New Yorkers (and everyone else in an urban area), let's talk about your health and the hours you spend weekly, even daily, taking mass transit. Besides the lugging of a laptop, lunch, bottled water, and gym clothes, what's that commute doing to your body?

Air pollution on the subway is disturbingly high and the worst of it is in NYC. I recently perused an article on Popsci, that looked at the respiratory effects of riding the metro. Globally, about 168 million people rode metro systems per day in 2017:

...scientists reported on February 10 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The researchers sampled the air at subway stations across the New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas and found particulate (microscopic particles that float around in the air) concentrations were generally two to seven times the Environmental Protection Agency’s daily recommended limit. Overall, New York was the worst offender, and the airborne particle levels in one 'exceptional' station were higher than have previously been reported for any subway station in the world.

The Gist:

    • Clearly, exposure is a factor, so transit workers and those that make long commutes regularly are most adversely affected. 
    • Roughly 168 million people globally ride subways systems each day in 2017.
    • The good news is that most trains are electric powered, which means they don’t emit the same kinds of pollution as fossil fuel.

The worst offender in the study of airborne microparticles of PM2.5 or smaller? The New York/New Jersey PATH train was double the average of the rest of the transit systems! The article states:

Most disturbing of all was the PATH’s Christopher Street Station in Manhattan, which on one morning reached particle concentrations of 1,778 micrograms per cubic meter. 'We did those measurements and we were just flabbergasted,' Gordon says.

The researchers suspect the pollutants may be generated by friction from the wheels grinding against the rails and emissions from the diesel-powered maintenance trains.

More research will be needed to determine how characteristics such as ventilation influence pollution levels and where exactly the particles originate from, Gordon says. If identified, this information could help to make subway air less polluted.

What's all that doing to your body? In short, more research is needed, but the dangerous kind of microparticles (those than are smaller than 250nm) can travel deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream causing all sorts of illnesses, shortened lifespans, and birth defects in unborn children. In the meantime, wearing a mask—particularly one that is designed to prevent the inhalation of airborne particles, such as a respirator—may help protect transit workers, you, and your family. 

As the world gets back to commuting, mask-wearing should not go away. Shop for a Happyface mask and use a filter for protection, like AIRVEIL Nanotechnology



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