Research/studies Drugs Workplace exposures Bus/limo/taxi Rail Transportation

Study finds public transit workers exposed to fentanyl residue, meth smoke

Photo: Kirkikis/iStockphoto

Seattle — Public train and bus operators face secondhand exposure from passenger drug use, potentially affecting their physical and mental health, according to a new report.

Five transit agencies in Washington state and Oregon approached researchers at the University of Washington to study the effects of drug use by bus and train passengers on transit operators. Air and surface sampling was done on trains and buses from four of the agencies over 28 nights this year. The samples were taken at times and on lines based on operator reports of observed drug use.

The researchers detected methamphetamine in 98% of the surface samples and in all of the air samples. Fentanyl was found in 46% of the surface samples and 25% of the air samples. However, only one of the air samples exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal recommendations for airborne fentanyl exposure at work.

The report states that not enough is known about daily secondhand drug exposure and the potential long-term health effects on public transit operators.

Measures to mitigate the hazards could include enhanced cleaning of surfaces, upgraded ventilation and filtration where possible, and operator training, according to the report. Topics included in training could focus on how operators should respond to passengers smoking, real and perceived risks of secondhand drug exposure, and how and when to use naloxone during overdose emergencies.

They add that consideration for operators’ mental health should be prioritized, especially for those who are in recovery or have experienced trauma in their lives related to drug use.

“A work environment that includes drug use and drug smoke can make it harder for transit operators to safety and effectively do their jobs, regardless of the level of exposure that operators may face,” Marissa Baker, a UW assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and co-author of the report, said in a press release. “This research … draws attention to the stressors and exposures that these essential workers face.”

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