UPDATED- This story was updated at 2:30pm.
NEW YORK—The New York Police Department is teaming up with a national laboratory to study how chemical weapons could be dispersed through the air into the subway system.
Researchers will track the movement of harmless tracer gases by placing air sampling devices in specific areas on the street and within the subway system. The gases mimic how a chemical, biological or radiological weapon may react if released.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday that the study will help safeguard the city against attacks.
“We want to be able to determine how toxic material can flow through the transit system — it’s one of the concerns that we’ve had for a while — and how it flows on the streets of our city,” Kelly said. “The topography of the city is unique.”
The tests will be conducted in July in all five boroughs. About 200 sampling devices will be deployed and the gas will be released through tanks. The test vapors are called perflurocarbon tracer gases and present no health or environmental hazard, police said. The public will be alerted before the testing is done, police said.
Kelly said similar studies have been done in Washington and Boston, but none on as large a scope. Officials will also look at results from those tests and a 2005 study done in New York on airflow, he said. The New York City subway system is the nation’s largest with about 5 million riders per day.
The project with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory will be funded through a $3.4 million federal grant. Lab director Doon Gibbs said they were excited about the opportunity to help enhance the safety of New Yorkers.
Kelly said the study will help city agencies better understand how harmful toxins could be released and dispersed and will aid in planning evacuations or other emergency responses.