Toxic sensors newyork
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Sensors to sniff out toxins in wind
By GREG GITTRICH
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Federal scientists will soon blanket the heart of midtown and the West Village with high-tech sensors designed to track biological, chemical and radiological agents in the event of a terrorist attack.
The security project is a first step toward creating a vast network of sensors that can predict how the fallout from a weapon of mass destruction might spread through the city.
"We would like to work out what areas would be dangerous and, more importantly, what areas would be safe," said Bruce Hicks, director of the Air Resources Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The research is considered crucial because mathematical and computer models that forecast the airborne paths of toxins were designed for rural areas, not cities.
"Right now, the models that we have are not set up for dense urban areas with the canyons and the complexities that exist in New York," said Dr. Ralph James, director of the Energy, Environment and National Security unit at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.
Five sensors already have been placed as part of the project, called the Urban Atmospheric Observatory.
The instruments, attached to a federal building near Varick and W. Houston Sts., measure wind direction, velocity and turbulence.
Scores of similar sensors, as well as radiation detectors, are expected to be placed this year around midtown and the West Village - considered potential terrorist targets.
"Anywhere we can hang an instrument, we are going to try to get one out there," said Michael Reynolds, a research scientist at the Brookhaven labs, part of the Energy Department.
This summer, federal scientists plan to release benign gases in Manhattan and use the sensors to track them.
"That way, we can really get an idea of how well the models work," Reynolds said.
A similar program, called DCNet, is underway in Washington, where 13 sensors have been placed near sensitive sites, including the White House.
New York is seeking up to $10 million from the Homeland Security Department to expand its network.
Reynolds said it would cost about $30 million to $40 million a year to fully implement the sensors in New York.
Originally published on June 3, 2003