Are You Breathing Clean Air During Your Subway Commute?

subway train

The New York City subway system is infamous for its commuter-packed cars, drippy ceilings and rats. However, does that mean the subway air you’re breathing is dirty? A new study from the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology suggests that the air breathed in the New York City subway system is “nearly identical” to the air breathed on city streets.

But there were a few differences. There seemed to be a higher proportion of skin microbiota from fellow passengers and some fungi, which may be due to rotting wood.  However, that’s much cleaner than what the authors had expected. This study should serve as a “strong testimony for the efficiency of the train pumping system for ventilation,” says Norman Pace, lead author of the study. None of the organisms they found were of any public health concern.

This study, the first of its kind, provides vital “pre-event information” required for bioterror surveillance and for monitoring the effects of natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, on the subway network.

The researchers relied on advanced technology to collect air at 300 liters per minute. With the faster rate of collection, the researchers were able to measure the level of airborne bacteria within minutes instead of hours. After taking different samples over a year and a half, they consistently found the same mix of microorganisms that were found above ground.

Hence, you can breathe easy while taking the New York City subway; however, be sure to practice proper hygiene. Take along a travel-sized bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and clean your hands after touching the poles or side rails. This will reduce your chance of getting sick by 50%. Also if you need to cough or sneeze, make sure to sneeze into your sleeve or shoulder for the sake of your fellow passengers.