The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has announced a series of biological tests that they will be conducting in subway systems near Boston. DHS will be releasing bacteria into the MBTA tunnels, in what they say are tests to evaluate sensors installed in the tunnel system.
The DHS sensors are designed to detect biological agents. The testing is expected to go on for at least one year, with multiple bacteria releases every month.
DHS officials insist that the bacteria release, a dead bacteria called B-subtilis, will have no adverse health risks on healthy individuals. What this means for people with compromised immune systems isn’t known, DHS hasn’t publicly commented on that.
B-subtilis is a Gram-positive, catalase-positive bacterium commonly found in soil. Although DHS insists that are no health risks, the EPA fact sheet does show some negative health effects associated with this bacteria.
B. subtilis does produce an extracellular toxin known as subtilisin. Although subtilisin has very low toxigenic properties (Gill, 1982), this proteinaceous compound is capable of causing allergic reactions in individuals who are repeatedly exposed to it.
B. subtilis has also been implicated in several cases of food poisoning (Gilbert et al., 1981 and Kramer et al., 1982 as cited by Logan, 1988).
It goes on to say that in those with compromised immune systems:
Infections attributed to B. subtilis include bacteremia, endocarditis, pneumonia, and septicemia.
According to DHS,(their documents can be seen on the DHS website here)
Several subway systems across the country were considered to host the proposed pilot test.
Preliminary discussions were held with a few subway systems, and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) was considered to be an optimal location due to the extensive chemical simulant studies that were recently performed there.