MBTA to release dead bacteria into Cambridge, Somerville T stations

MBTA looking to extend T service until 2 a.m. on weekends.
NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO

Starting in the early morning hours Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security will test a system of newly developed biological detection sensors by releasing what officials call “a harmless killed bacterium” into MBTA stations in Cambridge and Somerville.

The bacterium

is non-infectious and is approved as a food supplement, officials say, and is meant to help detect and minimize impacts of an attack — or accident — involving hazardous biological materials in a mass transportation system, like the MBTA.

Tests will be done when the stations are closed, and will continue over the next year, officials said.

Riders will be tipped off by signs that are put up a day ahead of the tests.

“Mass transportation systems, with their open access, can be vulnerable to hazardous materials that could rapidly spread throughout the system and endanger hundreds of thousands of lives,” said Anne Hultgren, branch chief of The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate. “A rapid alert from a detection system can locate and identify these materials and provide for immediate and appropriate response to protect people and contain the hazard.”

The Department of Homeland Security

developed a series of sensors that can quickly detect biological material, and has installed the sensors in Davis, Harvard and Porter stations.

“This detection system will be one of the first such systems installed in the country, and, if it proves to be effective, could serve as a model for other mass transportation venues throughout the nation and the world.  Closing this vulnerability to our transportation infrastructure will greatly advance our preparedness and strength against possible incidents,” said MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan. 

Officials at the DHS said there will be no significant impact on human health or the environment from the use of the testing material.


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