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Subway study eyes dispersal of chemical weapons

Subway riders can expect to see in stations Tuesday the installation of special equipment scientists will use as part of an experiment to see how chemical, biological or radiological weapons could be dispersed through the transit system in a terrorist attack, officials said.

The air sampling equipment is being set up by researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, accompanied by NYPD officers in all five boroughs. Researchers will be releasing low levels of harmless gases known as perfluorocarbons at several subway and street areas in Manhattan for about 30 minutes in the morning to measure how contaminants could disperse through the underground rail system.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement that about 200 sampling devices will be set up during the study to take measurements. After about a two-hour period for equipment placement, the study is expected to begin at around 8 a.m. Tuesday. Two more days of research will also take place at later dates this month.

The study is being funded through a $3.4 million grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security, he added.

"The NYPD works for the best, but plans for the worst when it comes to potentially catastrophic attacks such as ones employing radiological contaminant or weaponized anthrax," Kelly said. "This field study with Brookhaven's outstanding expertise will help prepare and safeguard the city's population in the event of an attack."

About 5 million passengers ride the subway system every day in the city, and police and security experts have long recognized its vulnerabilities to attack.

During terror attacks abroad such as the London subway bombings in 2005, police set up roving checkpoints at subway stations to do spot checks of bags and baggage.

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