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Study on toxic exposures in urban environments

Columbia University researchers have found that steel dust generated in the New York City subway significantly increases the total amount of airborne iron (Fe), manganese (Mn) and chromium (Cr) that riders breathe. The airborne levels of these metals associated with fine particulate matter in the subway environment were observed to be more than 100 times greater than levels observed in home indoor or outdoor settings in New York City. Their research findings are scheduled to appear in the January 15th issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

The results are part of the TEACH (Toxic Exposure Assessment, a Columbia and Harvard) study to understand pathways and levels of personal exposures to potentially toxic air pollutants in inner city areas of New York City and Los Angeles. This research was funded by the Mickey Leland National Urban Air Toxics Research Center and the NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan, at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

"This study in no way suggests that people should avoid riding the subway. There are no known health effects at the levels that we observed in the NYC subway system. Furthermore, reducing subway ridership would just increase surface traffic emissions," says Dr. Chillrud, a geochemist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a division of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and lead author of the manuscript.

For the NYC field research, a total of forty-one students attending the A. Philip Randolph Academy, a public high school in Harlem with enrollment from four of the five NYC boroughs, participated during the winter and summer of 1999. Air samples were collected over 48 hour time periods from rooftop sites in Harlem and Rockland County, New York and from inside and outside of each student's home. At the same time, students carried a speciall
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