MBTA plans to conduct bio-terror test in Boston

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May 16, 2012, 10:47 pm

(NECN: Josh Brogadir, Cambridge, Mass.) - MBTA officials are planning on using small amounts of dead bacteria will be used - a few ounces, such as the amount in a sugar packet - to test biosensors that were installed in December.

The testing will begin sometime this summer and reaction is decidedly mixed.

MBTA riders voiced their health concerns when hearing dead bacteria will be placed in subway tunnels this summer.

Rider Nancy Brothers, of Cambridge, Mass., is not so sure it won't impact the health of the elderly and young people with compromised immune systems.

The Department of Homeland Security and the MBTA say this is about the greater good, sensors that will be able to detect the specific type of harmful airborne agents in about 20 minutes - much faster than the current seven days - in the event of a biological terror attack in the subway system.

It's a chance to be proactive.

MBTA Police Chief Paul MacMillan says this can serve as a model for other cities.

Unlike a chemical attack which would hurt people right away, a nerve agent like saran or anthrax, the health effects of a biological attack may not be known by people for several days.

And health experts say this dead bacteria that will be used in the tests, an EPA approved biofungicide soil bacteria called Bacillus subtilis, is not harmful.

Dr. Anne Hultgren of the Department of Homeland Security said there is no risk at all.

Dr. Al DeMaria, Chief Epidemiologist at Massachusetts Department of Public Health said there is a similar factor of bacteria when a train goes by now and spreads dust.

But while some regular riders who attended the information session, still have their doubts, others such as Joan O'Mara, whose brother was a New York fire marshal who lived through 9/11, initially apprehensive, was reassured.

This is the first biosensor testing of its kind in the nation.

The testing will be overnight when there are no riders present  in Harvard Square and at Porter and Davis square stops on the red line.

These three stops were chosen because they are all in a row, they are deep underground, and there are no changes to other lines.

Tags: Boston, massachusetts, Safety, Cambridge, MBTA, Josh Brogadir, bacteria, residents, bioterrorism, bioterror test
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