UW report: small traces of fentanyl, meth found on numerous transit vehicles

The University of Washington has released a new report that found numerous transit vehicles in the Seattle and Portland areas contained “small amounts” of fentanyl and methamphetamine. Photo courtesy TriMet
The University of Washington has released a new report that found numerous transit vehicles in the Seattle and Portland areas contained “small amounts” of fentanyl and methamphetamine. Photo courtesy TriMet

Researchers collaborated with five transit agencies, including TriMet in the Portland metro area

Spencer Pauley
The Center Square Washington

The University of Washington has released a new report that found numerous transit vehicles in the Seattle and Portland areas contained “small amounts” of fentanyl and methamphetamine.

Researchers detected the drugs in the air and on surfaces, according to the the University of Washington School of Public Health’s exposure assessment

Out of 78 air samples collected by UW researchers, 25% had detectable fentanyl and 100% had detectable methamphetamine. Out of 102 surface samples, 46% had detectable fentanyl and 98% had detectable methamphetamine.

However, nearly all of the positive samples contained small amounts of the drugs that are unlikely to cause acute medical conditions, according to the assessment.

It remains unclear to researchers if consistent, long-term exposure poses a risk to health. Transit operators who work full time, 40 hours a week, would be considered under long-term exposure to the trace amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine.

“A work environment that includes drug use and drug smoke can make it harder for transit operators to safely and effectively do their jobs, regardless of the level of exposure that operators may face,” UW Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Marissa Baker said in a news release. “This research is important, as it draws attention to the stressors and exposures that these essential workers face.” 

Researchers collected air and surface samples for fentanyl and methamphetamine from a total of 11 buses and 19 train cars from five transit agencies. Samples were collected over 28 nights between March 27 and June 22.

The assessment was limited in scope and narrowly tailored. Researchers collaborated with five transit agencies, which also provided funding: King County Metro, Sound Transit, Everett Transit and Community Transit in Snohomish County, and Tri-Met in the Portland metro area. 

The assessment suggests protective measures including improved ventilation and air filtration, enhanced cleaning practices and operator training on agency protocols around the use of drugs on vehicles.

“Even at a level that is considered ‘safe,’ it can still be stressful to see drug use in your workplace,” Baker added. “Taking steps to protect operators will benefit their physical and mental well-being at work.” 

Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Julie Timm said the agency is relieved to hear from public health officials that the study results indicate there is no public health risk on transit. She added that Sound Transit will continue to enact measures “to continuously, proactively, and equitably improve our safety and environmental conditions.”

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.


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