It is not just Japanese tourists with face-masks who are concerned about what they may be inhaling on London’s iconic Underground which has over 4 Million passenger journeys each weekday. Many years ago when I worked for the Underground despite the fact it had its own Lab an outside University surveyed the superficial contents of Tube seats. Suffice to say, dear reader, after the results of the survey were done they agreed to fumigate the seats every 3 months, previously they were never done. Since then the air quality on The Tube is much improved with better ventilation and no asbestos brake pads on trains.
Other underground railway systems around the world, including New York’s, use wipe-clean plastic seating instead of cushions, which are thought to be more hygienic. However London Underground trains have the distinctive moquette upholstery which is different for each line. This is really liked by Tube aficionado’s so much so you can even buy moquette trainers and furniture. However as it is permeable being essentially a form of closely woven carpet used for upholstery that tradition may need to be revisited if the results of Time Out magazine’s admittedly unscientific survey are anything to go by.
You may decide to stand up next time you use the Tube, if this video showing how dirty the seats on the Underground is anything to go by. The video, produced by the magazine Time Out, shows clouds of dust (mixed in with human skin!) billowing up from seats on London Underground lines as they are bashed with a rubber hammer.
Testers looked at the Piccadilly, Victoria, Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee, Central, District, Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan lines. Even brand new ‘S’ stock trains on the District line, rolled out over the last year, contained significant quantities of the brown dust, which is thought to be a combination of dead human skin and dirt from people’s shoes.
London Undergrounds outsources its train cleaning and the contracts provide that trains are cleaned after every working day, and deep cleaned every 14 days. Previously in 2010 in claims contested by London Underground the pest control firm Rentokil warned that infestations on public transport were are at an all-time high. “The average commuter will always be close to cockroaches, bedbugs and fleas,” said Savvas Othon of Rentokil. “People eat on the move, and there is a lot of food left on seats. Pests are thriving. Although we looked at a train not running in London, we believe that London trains, both Underground and Overground, will have a similar number of infestations.” Staff at Rentokil sprayed insecticide throughout the carriages of a train and then counted the bodies of insects. The average Tube train contains up to 1,000 cockroaches, while seats can contain 200 bedbugs and 200 fleas, it was claimed.
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