Scientists release non-toxic gas, particles in NYC to test potential impact of chemical or biological attack

Local News

TIMES SQUARE, MANHATTAN – Times Square is the crossroads of the world, but on Monday it was home to a science experiment.

As part of an air sampling study, scientists released particles and gases into the air to find out how the materials move outdoors and in the subway system. It’s to help New York City and urban areas like it get ready for any emergency incidents involving hazardous materials.

Mandeep Virdi is the project lead from the program, Urban Threat Dispersion Project.

“In case there’s a fire and there’s smoke, [it’s] understanding where that goes,” Virdi said. “If there’s a gas leak, [it’s] understanding that.”

The scientists and chemists from the Department of Homeland Security, MIT, and other national labs are finding out how these materials travel through urban environments.

Dr. Michael Sohn, a scientist and engineer at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, says they take into account how skyscrapers impact the speed and direction of wind.

“We want to understand how long it takes for an air pollutant that might pass from one side of the city to the other side of the city,” Dr. Sohn said.

They’re also seeing how the materials travel underground into the transit system and vice versa.

Donald Bansleben, program manager at DHS Science and Technology Directorate, says they’re conducting the same experiment in the subway.  

“Material will not stay in the subway,” Dr. Bansleben said. “It will come above ground, so where is that material traveling above ground?”

What’s being released is non-toxic, but this is to equip the city with the right tools to respond to a situation that’s hazardous whether unintentional or intentional.

“The study that we’re doing is really to collect information that the Department of Homeland Security will provide to New York City authorities and agencies to help them better prepare for their emergency planning,” Bansleben said.

It may also help in setting policies for agencies.

About 2,000 samples will be collected and at the end of the study all of the information will be sent to labs across the country with results expected in the next two to three months.

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