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

ains one of the top priorities of the Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Redlener points out.

Dr. Gershon's paper considers a number of different potential health hazards as they relate to subways, including the threat of transmission of infectious diseases, either through close person-to-person spread, or indirectly, through contact with contaminated seats or clothing. Importantly, airborne spread of many pathogens is possible, although undocumented in the subway system, mainly because studies have not been conducted that specifically explore this. According to Dr. Gershon, "the risk of infectious disease transmission could be minimized through adequate maintenance of ventilation systems, frequent sanitation, and periodic disinfection of subway surfaces. At the individual rider level- prevention may be as simple as hand washing after riding the subways," she states.

Another hazard examined in this paper was subway noise. Not surprisingly, subways are noisy environments, given the many noise producing processes that are common in rail transit and the amplification provided by the enclosed space of the underground subway. Dr. Gershon's paper reviews noise level data her team recently collected which indicate that there is a potential for concern. They found that current levels are as high as they were in the 1970s, and in some cases, the levels were higher than recommended by health experts. She notes, "While many riders try and deal with the noise by putting their fingers into their ears, this unfortunately offers little protection, and ear plugs would be only slightly better."

Subways also present a special concern with respect to crime, although public perceptions about crime are often out of line with actual crime rates, which generally have been dropping. Observes Dr. Gershon, "There are some crimes, unique to subways, such as pushing or attempted pushing onto subway tracks, that loom large in some riders mind." In fact, one
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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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