new york subway
The air quality in the subway systems across the U.S. is almost downright toxic.

New research published last week shows high levels of pollution for subway riders, with the worst air quality coming from places like New York and New Jersey, according to The Guardian.

The report notes that tiny specks of pollution called PM2.5 were well above nationally determined safe daily levels of 35 micrograms per cubic meter in cities like New York, Washington and Philadelphia. The particles are likely "thrown up by train brakes or the friction between train wheels and rails".

In New York, these particles measured 251 micrograms per cubic meter. Terry Gordon, a professor at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, who co-authored the research, said: "New Yorkers in particular should be concerned about the toxins they are inhaling."

The level was even higher, coming in at 1,499 micrograms per cubic meter at Christopher Street in the West Village. This is about 77 times higher than above-ground air pollution and is a level "more commonly found near a large wildfire or during a building demolition".

Gordon continued: "It was the worst pollution ever measured in a subway station, higher than some of the worst days in Beijing or Delhi. It just wasn't believable. My colleague went down there and his airways were feeling tight after an hour or so."

"People should be highly alarmed by these high levels," he said. Pollutants were composed of iron and organic carbon produced "from the breakdown of fossil fuels or decaying plants and animals." Gordon says more research is necessary to explain why pollution is so bad in some areas, and to figure out the health impact on commuters and transit workers.

The research found that people conducting a daily commute using Christopher Street were increasing their risk of an adverse cardiovascular event by 10%. And despite subway ridership falling due to the pandemic, many of the people who still use mass transit are frontline workers, on their way to help fight a virus that is known for attacking the lungs.

Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, commented: "This is an important contribution, especially to our understanding of the disproportionate burden of air pollution faced by low-income communities and communities of color. As the scientific community works to better understand exposure and potential health effects of air pollution in the urban environment, I hope local decision makers use this valuable work to inform the best ways to address the known racial and socioeconomic inequities in air pollution exposure in US cities."

Broadway in Boston, Second Avenue in New York City and 30th Street in Philadelphia also scored among the top polluted stations in the Northeast.