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Homeland Security To Test Biological Sensors In MBTA Tunnels

The MBTA and Department of Homeland Security are teaming up to make sure commuters are protected from biological terrorist attacks. They are testing sensors that will be able to detect hazardous materials, in the hopes of preventing future attacks.To test the sensors, the MBTA and DHS will release aerosol spray -- not harmful to the public -- into the subway system. 

Federal officials say they test the subway sensors by releasing dead bacteria called B. subtilis. They say it is used in food supplements, has been rigorously tested and has no adverse health effects for low exposure in healthy people.

Newly developed biological sensors will test the spray in the air, all in the effort to improve response time if there ever was a biological terrorist attack. The sensors will also help in other emergency situations.

Cambridge and Somerville T stations have been selected for the testing. Depending on the results of the tests, the sensors could be installed nationwide.
DHS said they selected The Massachusetts T system for testing because it is the fifth largest in the U.S., and the oldest.

“This will help us as we determine future evacuation plans, or our emergency response to any type of critical incident -- whether it be a fire, smoke in a tunnel, a HazMat spill,” said Dep. Chief Lewis Best, MBTA Transit Police.

“Improving security comes at a cost of reducing personal liberty sometimes, so I’m not always keen on it,” said Anton Ziolkowski, a commuter.

“I think that it’s probably something that should be done, something that it good for our safety. But I don’t really want to know about it beforehand when they’re doing all the testing. But it’s something that should be on the T,” said Elizabet Spatola, a commuter.

Authorities say ridership will not be greatly affected because they will be testing during the off hours in the summer.

The tests will be held during the off hours this summer, likely overnight. As part of the legal process, a hearing will be held May 16, from 5:30-7:30pm at the Cambridge YMCA in Central Square. The public will be able to voice concerns and comments.

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