August 14, 2020

Wyden, Merkley, Blumenauer and Bonamici Demand Answers on Environmental and Health Impacts of Tear Gas Used by Federal Officers

Lawmakers exercise oversight of federal agencies, requesting that the EPA immediately investigate the impacts of sustained tear gas use on people, air, land and bodies of water

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici today demanded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) immediately investigate the impacts of sustained tear gas used by federal agents on people, air, land and bodies of water.

As members of Congress whose duties demand oversight of federal agencies, the lawmakers said their request follows sustained tear gas use by federal officers from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security in Portland, Oregon. They noted that their constituents, some of whom were exercising their right to peacefully protest and others, who happen to live nearby, were exposed to tear gas that threatens their health and the environment.

"Over the course of several weeks, federal agents deployed tear gas and other crowd control munitions in response to peaceful protests near the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in downtown Portland. The use of tear gas was indiscriminate and often spread through surrounding areas on a nightly basis. While Portland has not had significant rainfall in July, cleaning efforts on and around the courthouse have included washing off debris and possible chemicals on streets and sidewalks into sewer drains, potentially contaminating the nearby Willamette River and groundwater," the lawmakers wrote.

"In addition to the direct health impacts on our constituents, we are also deeply concerned about the impact tear gas has had on Oregon’s environment. State and local environmental and health agencies are investigating its impacts, and it is also the duty of the Federal Government to provide information that will help further these studies and make information about the environmental impacts of tear gas usage readily available to the American public."

The lawmakers requested that the EPA provide answers to the following questions by August 31:

  1. Will the EPA support testing of soil, vegetation, air, groundwater and other bodies of water in the Downtown Portland area for exposure to tear gas?
  2. Does the EPA have studies that show immediate and long-term impact that tear gas has on trees and other natural spaces, such as parks? If so, can you provide that information?
  3. EPA publishes the Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for airborne chemicals to describe the human health effects from once-in-a-lifetime, or rare, exposure to airborne chemicals. Will the EPA use the AEGL study to investigate the impact of sustained use of tear gas on peaceful protesters by federal agents in Portland?
  4. How does the EPA plan to study environmental and human health impacts of exposure to tear gas on Black, Indigenous and Communities of Color in Oregon and nationwide?
  5. Can tear gas linger in air, soil and water after sustained use in a specific area? Can chemicals settle on surfaces and remain for extended periods of time?
  6. Please provide any additional information or study available that demonstrates how sustained use of tear gas can pollute air, land and water and its impact on humans and wildlife. 
  7. To your knowledge, has the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of tear gas for human consumption or inhalation? 

A full copy of the letter can be found here.


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