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UW researchers studying effects of drug use on air quality on board King County transit

This week, they placed air pumps and filters on board several buses and light rail cars.

SEATTLE — University of Washington researchers will examine the potential impacts of drug use on air quality within public transit. 

This week, they installed air pumps and filters onboard several King County Metro buses and light rail cars and will send them to labs to examine whether there are traces of fentanyl or other drugs inherent after smoke events. They will also wipe surfaces to check for deposits. 

"The emphasis is really on the operators and we're making sure to measure the air quality around the operators," UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Assistant Professor Marissa Baker said. "We want to make sure workers are able to be safe at work."

King County Metro Director of Communications and Marketing Sean Hawks says the study is designed to learn more about airflow, air quality and how the agency can improve cleaning and health. It comes after drivers called for more action to prevent drug use and the agency rolled out a plan to target safety issues

"We want it to be a safe and welcome experience for both our riders and our employees, from start to finish," Hawks said. "Even though incidents like these are relatively rare, we see about 1 per 30,000 boardings, it needs to be zero. It's completely unacceptable to have any."

Hawks says King County Metro has added more transit security agents and is working to hire up to 140 in total. He says the agency is also doing community partnerships to prevent incidents proactively. 

"Even one incident is too many, so that's why we're engaged in all of this work, we're so excited to be partnering on this study because one incident is too many and it's always our goal to have zero," Hawks said.

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