The study from the University of Washington, sponsored by Sound Transit, King County Metro, Community Transit, Everett Transit, and TriMet was investigating if smoke from the use of fentanyl and methamphetamine is adversely affecting transit operators and passengers. The study was commissioned in response to concerns about employee and rider health due to exposure to smoke from the deadly drugs.
Researchers placed detectors by the operators on their seats and hid battery-powered monitoring devices behind signs and panels on buses and trains.
On buses and trains, meth was found in 100 percent of air samples analyzed and 98 percent of surface samples. Fentanyl was found in a quarter of the air samples and almost half of the surface samples.
Despite the results, Dr. Scott Phillips medical director of the Washington Poison Center said, “Based on what was measured, we would not expect to see a health effect from these concentrations."
Phillips noted that the study didn’t investigate the potential impact of riders and passengers inhaling smoke or the effects of long-term exposure to meth and fentanyl. "If you’re planning on asking questions about specific health effects, there’s no answer in this. There has not been a study looking at lower chronic exposure in a working population."
However, the study didn’t test transit operators or passengers to see if they had secondhand fentanyl or methamphetamine exposure.
Marc Beaudreau, a researcher with the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences said, “Operators are different from the riding public, because operators are exposed for a much longer time period. The potential long-term health effects associated with daily exposure have not been adequately researched, so until these relationships are established, we’re suggesting protective measures that transit agencies could implement to keep operators safe."
Earlier this year, in a post on the health department's blog, Phillips downplayed the exposure to smoke from fentanyl claiming that it presents "no real risk."
Around the same time, it was also revealed that King County Metro drivers were concerned about exposure to rampant fentanyl use on mass transit in Washington state. The problem has been increasing for years as local Democrats made the problems worse through their policies of decriminalizing drug possession.
According to KOMO News, there were 1,885 reports of drug use on the bus system in 2022 where 52 workers reported being exposed to smoke from drugs. 16 operators have filed worker's compensation claims.
A bus driver for King County Metro named Stevon Williams told the outlet that fentanyl smoke is so common that it's making him sick. "I really hadn’t ever heard of fentanyl smoking on the bus when I was hired by Metro. I don’t want to be put in a predicament where I’m around drugs every day on my job - I didn’t sign up for that."
Williams, who at the time was on leave while he received medical testing for exposure to fentanyl smoke added, "You have people who are on there smoking right beside passengers, right beside mothers with little children. It’s for the drug users, they’re looked out for first."
Following Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour concert in Seattle in July, The Post Millennial received reports of light rail customers, including teens, coming home from the concert having been exposed to meth from vagrants and having to get off the train before their stops due to the side effects.
In a statement, Sound Transit told The Post Millennial, "Unfortunately, we did not get any reports of this incident at the time, so security wasn’t aware of it. If we had been, we would have responded in real-time."
In March, a report by KATU found that Portland, Oregon’s TriMet MAX trains have been delayed countless times due to passengers using, or being suspected of using, drugs while onboard.
According to the outlet, after each instance when drug use is reported, passengers are asked to exit the train, and the cars are aired out for at least fifteen minutes. TriMet supervisors then ensure that any remnants or fumes from the drugs are gone but passengers and operators alike have still reported feeling unwell after riding the trains.
Thea Oliphant-Wells, a formerly homeless addict, who works for Seattle & King County Public Health claimed in a 2022 King County Metro meeting on substance use disorder, "It's important to note when you see fentanyl reporting that you take a really take a critical eye because there is a lot of misinformation out there. We're not seeing folks developing secondhand here, this is just not happening. Not to say that it could never happen, but we're not seeing it."
Oliphant-Wells, who advocates for heroin injection sites, which have been shown to increase overdoses, needle debris, and crime while not encouraging addicts to seek treatment, and previously headed the King County needle exchanges, told Metro workers and riders, "We don't want people to be using in private spaces alone, we want people to be using in a place where if they overdose they can be discovered and helped through that overdose."
So far in 2023, in King County, over 500 people have died from methamphetamine overdoses and more than 700 people have died from fentanyl overdoses, which has already eclipsed 2022’s record highs.
There were 1,019 fatal overdoses in King County in 2022, the highest number of overdose deaths the county has on record, with fentanyl being responsible for 686 of those deaths.
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