King County Metro installs air monitors to study effects of fentanyl

Mar 28, 2023, 3:54 PM | Updated: 3:58 pm

King County metro bus fentanyl on buses...

Worker inspects a King County Metro bus. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Officials from King County Metro, in partnership with the University of Washington (UW), have authorized the placement of monitors on board buses to study the effects that drug use, specifically fentanyl, has on air quality.

This comes after drivers complained about fentanyl smoke affecting their health, including when a section of the Link Light rail had to be closed due to a person smoking fentanyl in the lead railcar.

From the Dori Monson archives: Metro driver worries about bus passengers’ exposure to secondhand drug smoke

The new air quality monitors will be a part of a study conducted by UW to study airflow, cleaning, protocols, and the impact of drug use on employee and rider health.

“While drug incidents on Metro are not common, our goal remains zero. When an incident does happen, not enough is known about airflow and whether substances linger,” King County Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer said in a blog post.

This study could challenge the notion that second-hand fentanyl exposures are of minimal risk to others, according to Seattle-King County Public Health.

“When someone smokes fentanyl, most of the drug has been filtered out by the user before there is secondhand smoke. It doesn’t just sort of float around. Studies have looked at fentanyl concentrations in the bloodstream after someone has had secondhand fentanyl exposure from smoke,” a report on fentanyl from April 2022 said.

Drivers have brought up concerns about the long-term health effects of exposure to second-hand fentanyl, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), stating they hoped this study would inform improvements to airflow, cleaning protocols, and filters in support of employee and rider health.

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Work to collect air and surface samples and assess airflow patterns is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks onboard Metro and Sound Transit Link light rail.

Other research partners include Community Transit, Everett Transit, and TriMet in Portland.

King County Metro asks the public to report all instances of public drug use.

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King County Metro installs air monitors to study effects of fentanyl