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Major review of subway systems suggests potential for significant health and safety hazards

New York, February 24, 2005 Although information on subway safety is generally very limited, a new paper by safety experts at the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health provides the first comprehensive look at health and safety hazards that might affect both riders and subway workers. The report, published in the Journal of Urban Health in a special issue on mass transit, indicates that while subways in general, and the New York City subway system in particular, are relatively safe, especially in comparison to automobile use, a number of concerns remain.

According to lead author, Robyn Gershon, DrPH, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School, "Data on subway safety issues are limited, and much more research in this area is warranted given that millions of people are potentially at risk- in New York City alone, the weekday ridership is over 7 million passengers. "While this comprehensive review of the data gives us the first big picture into the health of our transportation system, without further appropriate risk assessment studies, we cannot adequately determine the factors and health effects of potential hazards," and "most importantly, the steps that are needed to reduce this risk," Dr. Gershon cautions.

For a number of reasons, subway systems are vulnerable to a range of health and safety hazards, both naturally occurring as well as man-made," states Dr. Gershon. The Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia's Mailman School, Dr. Irwin Redlener, says he is concerned because "subways have been the target of terrorist attacks, such as the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway systems, and they remain a potential target." He thinks that subways make a likely target, because, as he states, "not only would large numbers of people be victimized by such an attack, but the urban community itself would be adversely affected." The urban infrastructure, including the subways, rem
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Contact: Stephanie Berger
sb2247@columbia.edu
212-305-4372
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
24-Feb-2005


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