August 06, 2020

As Oregonians Report Health Issues, Wyden Demands Answers from DHS and DOJ on the Health Impacts of Tear Gas Used Against Peaceful Protesters

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today pressed the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the agencies' sustained use of tear gas against peaceful protesters in Portland, Ore., following reports that a number of Oregonians have reported irregularities in their menstrual cycles after being tear gassed.

In a letter, Wyden demanded Attorney General William Barr and DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf answer questions on the negative impacts of tear gas on human health and physiology, especially during a pandemic.

“Your agencies deployed a number of federal agents to Portland last month. They weren't invited, they weren't needed, and their presence fomented the very violence you claim they were there to prevent. The agents responded to largely peaceful demonstrations by firing ‘less-lethal’ rounds at protestors and by using tear gas on them night after night,” Wyden said. “Residents of downtown Portland, including the houseless community, were exposed to these dangerous chemicals regardless of whether they took part in the protests. This response would be disturbing under any circumstances but it is completely unacceptable in the middle of a global respiratory pandemic.”

Wyden cited that at least two dozen women who were exposed to tear gas in Oregon have reported significant abnormalities in their menstrual cycles, which they believe is connected. He also noted the acute impacts of tear gas that have been well-documented, including pained and blurry vision, coughing, choking and difficulty breathing, particularly in people with asthma or other respiratory conditions. The Centers for Disease Control says that high doses can cause chemical burns and respiratory failure leading to death.

Wyden asked for answers to the following questions by August 31:

  • What chemical agents have DOJ and DHS agents used in Portland? Please list all chemical irritants and riot control agents.
  • What processes do your agencies and their subcomponents follow when determining whether to use tear gas or riot control agents? Are DOJ and DHS officials required to indicate that they have exhausted all other options before using tear gas or riot control agents?
  • How did your agencies assess the risk of using tear gas on protestors during this respiratory pandemic?  Did you agencies consider the impact that tear gas would have on protestors who may be infected and asymptomatic?
  • Has either of your agencies ever conducted an examination of the impact that tear gas or riot control agents has on human physiology? If so, what were the conclusions? If not, why not?
  • Has either of your agencies asked other federal agencies to examine the impact tear gas or riot control agents has on human physiology? If so, which agencies? If not, why not?
  • Has either of your agencies consulted with outside medical experts on the impact tear gas or riot control agents has on human physiology? If not, why not?
  • Press reports and photo evidence indicate that some of the tear gas may have come from expired cans. Did either of your agencies or any of their subcomponents use expired canisters of tear gas or riot control agents in Portland?
  • Do your agencies have processes in place to ensure that all tear gas canisters and riot control agents have not yet expired? If so, please describe that process. If not, will you create such a process?

A full copy of the letter can be found here.