Yesterday the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory “dispersed low concentrations of harmless gases known as perfluorocarbons (PFCs) at select subway and street-level locations.” The release of the gases into crowded NYC subway stations was commissioned by the NYPD and funded through a $3.4 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. First synthesized in the 1920s, PFCs were developed in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during WWII. PFCs can remain in the body for years, but do not affect bodily functions. PFCs are used in paints to make them spread easier, fabric protectants, and also as radiological imaging agents.
The Subway-Surface Air Flow Exchange (S-SAFE), as the NYC subway project is formally known, is being conducted over three non-consecutive days in July “to better understand the risks posed by airborne contaminants, including chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) weapons as they are dispersed in the atmosphere and in the City’s subway system.” Twenty-one subway lines across the five boroughs were selected for the test, which was announced to the public just a day in advance. Straphangers breathing in the PFCs may have noticed boxes containing air sampling equipment secured in subway stations, on nearby street light poles, and hand-carried by researchers.