MTA Assures Air Quality on L Train Line Is Safe, But Transit Workers Disagree

Service was shut down for hours Tuesday as the MTA investigated overwhelming fumes; a day later, the smell was lingering

What to Know

  • The MTA is again assuring L train riders that the air is safe at all stations, a day after fumes caused at least one rider to pass out
  • The smell was determined to come from heating oil that had leaked onto tracks at Graham Avenue
  • The odor lingered into Wednesday, but officials say there's no danger and appreciate the public's patience while the smell dissipates

A day after fumes from heating oil at a Brooklyn subway station caused at least one rider to pass out, transit employees are now getting sick, despite the MTA's insistence that the air quality is safe. 

The Transit Workers Union said Wednesday four employees have been hospitalized from the fumes in the last several days.

"A lot of it is headaches, chills," said Lynwood Rychard of TWU Local 100. "Some are extremely nervous. And breathing issues."  

The smell at the Graham Avenue stop in Williamsburg Tuesday was so powerful at least one subway rider fainted, according to witnesses. Service was suspended for hours between Manhattan and Brooklyn as the MTA investigated.

The odor lingered into Wednesday, but MTA's Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren reiterated his assurance that the air quality was safe after visiting the Graham Avenue station. 

"It may be obnoxious for people to smell the fumes, this odor, but it is not in any way toxic or unsafe," he said. 

He admitted the MTA still isn't sure what exactly the smell is, but "it appears to be some type of oil that seeped up from the ground. It's not clear where it came from."

The MTA said it's using fans to reduce the odor and blankets to soak up the oil. 

Warren added in a statement later, "I want to reassure all New Yorkers that the air on the L train and in the stations is 100 percent safe. The DEC and FDNY, globally recognized experts in this work, have made it very clear that there is absolutely no risk to the public, and we are continuously monitoring the air quality for even small variations." 

Rychard said he "takes issue" with Warren's comments. 

"There must be some operating guide besides, 'Go upstairs, get some air,'" he said. 

FDNY spokesman Jim Long said the department did test the air quality on Tuesday, and determined collectively with the MTA and the DEP was safe. But the FDNY was not asked to test the air again on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the MTA said it asked a third party to come and test the air quality in the affected stations and on trains. The Environmental Planning and Management, Inc. said it tested for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air at the Bedford, Lorimer, Graham and Grand Avenue stations, and all readings remained 0.0 parts per million. 

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