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Researching airborne metals in transit workers' bodies

Working in the subway several hours each day, subway workers and transit police breathe more subway air than the typical commuter. Subway air has been shown to contain more steel dust than outdoor or other indoor air in New York City. But do transit workers' bodies harbor elevated levels of these metals? And does this translate into a health concern for the workers?

In a new paper called Steel Dust in the New York City Subway System as a Source of Manganese, Chromium, and Iron Exposures for Transit Workers, Steven Chillrud and colleagues discuss an ongoing pilot study that takes a closer look at these questions. The paper will be published in the March issue of the Journal of Urban Health, a special issue focusing on subway health research.

The pilot study is expected to show whether 40 transit workers' blood and urine contains elevated levels of the metals that have been shown to exist in air collected in subway stations. "This is the type of information you need before deciding whether it is worthwhile to investigate any potential health impacts," Chillrud explains. "Airborne metals levels that have been studied in the past were much higher than those in subway air, but subway levels are higher than outdoor air. So it's an interesting in-between area."

As Chillrud and colleagues write in the new paper, "Steel dust exposure in the NYC subway system has been of concern to subway workers and transit police for decades. As one of the largest subway systems in the world, the NYC subway environment could provide important information relevant to evaluating the potential for health effects from exposures to airborne metals." The authors are researchers from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia, the Mailman School of Public Health, and Harvard's School of Public Health.

Emphasizing that no adverse health effects have been linked to the levels of steel dust present in the subways, Chillrud says no one should stop riding
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Contact: Mary Tobin
mtobin@ldeo.columbia.edu
845-365-8607
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
25-Feb-2005


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