Boston plans bioterror tests at MBTA stations

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate are planning to test biological detection gear at multiple Boston subway system stations this summer.

The tests will occur at the Cambridge and Somerville stations. The equipment will be evaluated by using a harmless dead bacteria to determine how quickly pathogens can be found by the detection devices. Specific dates for the tests have yet to be provided by the MBTA, GSN reports.

The transit agency held a public meeting on Wednesday for interested parties to voice comments and concerns. The DHS will consider all comments received through June 15. The DHS conducted an environmental assessment and found no significant impact when using a food-safe, innocuous test bacterium to determine how well the systems can detect hazardous biological materials in the subway stations.

The Bacillus subtilis bacterium is found in soil and is not transmittable to humans. It has been used on produce as a bio-fungicide and has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. The DHS decided to use the dead form of the bacteria so as to avoid impacting immune sensitive populations.

The MBTA's QinetiQ sensors are designed to detect hazardous biological materials to allow for rapid responses within 20 minutes to reduce the consequences of a biological attack. The sensors were installed in the stations in December, according to GSN.