Filthy subway air? Ever find yourself struggling to get your breath as you return to the street? Maybe it’s not fitness but carbon choking your lungs.
By David Stone
I noticed it first when, day after day, leaving the 42nd Street F Train station near my office, my breath ran short before I reached the sidewalk. The steps weren’t much, and I was a distance runner. But I still found myself gasping, and it took a block or so to get my normal breathing back.
That was a decade ago, when I worked in sales, but it still happens in places. The worst is leaving the 23rd Street F train stop but, with good reason I later found, also the 2nd Avenue stop at Houston Street.
But it’s not me, it’s filthy subway air…
From samples collected in multiple metro systems in 2019, a team of researcher from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine “found concentrations of hazardous metals and organic particles that ranged anywhere from 2 to 7 times that of outdoor air samples.”
And keep in mind, that outdoor air samples in New York aren’t exactly daisy fresh.
The NYU Langone New Hub reported it, last week.
71 stations were tested during rush hours in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. While the Christopher Street station on the PATH scored worst of all, the F Line’s 2nd Avenue won worst of breed in New York.
A growing awareness of the hazards…
Filthy subway air is far more than an esthetic concern. All the residue you see caking exposed surfaces below ground has a fair chance of leaking into your lungs. And it’s the smallest particles that are of greatest concern.
Organic carbon, for example, the second most prevalent pollutant, is “linked to increased risk of asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease,” the study authors say.
“Our findings add to evidence that subways expose millions of commuters and transit employees to air pollutants at levels known to pose serious health risks over time,” the study’s lead author David Luglio told Langone.
If you’re up to tackling the raw science, find the abstract here.
Although with only 13 out of hundreds of subway stations tested yours probably didn’t make the cut, it’s fair assuming that these problems are system-wide. And there may very well be worse examples.
Most MTA stations are old, built without much consideration for air flow. Particulate matter from many sources hangs in the air.
But there’s an interesting, ironic twist of hope. Wearing face masks throughout the pandemic has probably helped most of us protect our lungs too.
There’s another reason to keep them on, even after vaccination, at least in the subway.