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UW partners with local transit agencies to study fentanyl smoke movement in public transportation

SEATTLE — Some of King County’s public transportation will be outfitted with detectors to study and better understand how fentanyl smoke moves in a contained environment.

King County Metro and Sound Transit are among the transit agencies participating in a University of Washington study that will track how drug smoke circulates toward transit drivers.

King County Metro says the transit agencies involved in the study are also working with law enforcement and other community partners to “more effectively prevent all substance use on transit.”

“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,” said a King County Metro spokesperson in a blog post shared last week.

Marissa Baker, an assistant professor in the UW’s department of environmental and occupational health sciences, called the study a first-of-its-kind examination of narcotics fumes within transit vehicles.

“We’re looking not only at fentanyl but also other drugs that are commonly used with fentanyl,” said Baker. “We’re looking to see how it moves in the air, whether or not it reaches the operator and how much reaches the operator, if it deposits and stays on surfaces, things like that.”

Devices will be placed on several Metro buses and Link light rail trains to assess airflow patterns on public transit.

The filters within the devices will be replaced frequently over a three-week span. The filters will then be analyzed for fentanyl, meth, heroin and oxycodone.

Researchers hope to report their findings in May.