Blumenauer, Power Call for Investigation Into Impact of Tear Gas, Pepper Spray

July 30, 2020
Press Release
Lawmakers demand answers on public health and environmental effects of law enforcement actions

While leaders in Oregon are negotiating the departure of federal law enforcement agents from Portland, many residents remain concerned about the short- and long-term impacts that tear gas, pepper spray, and potentially other, unidentified gases may have on the environment and public health.

Today, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Oregon State Representative Karin Power are calling for an immediate investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality into what chemical agents were used against protestors and what potential impacts they might have on human health, wildlife, aquatic life, and local air and water quality.

“Gases have been deployed on peaceful protesters with little or no prior notice, resulting in exposure to unknown chemical agents,” Blumenauer and Power wrote. “We are extremely concerned about the potential environmental and public health impacts of these gas discharges, and we request your immediate attention to this matter.”  

The chemicals in tear gas, or CS gas as it is commonly referred to, are known to harm human skin and eyes and cause respiratory irritation. Numerous medical and public health professionals have also noted that respiratory irritation from exposure to CS gas has the potential to increase the risk for COVID-19.

The letter from Blumenauer and Power comes after personnel on courthouse grounds were seen in recent days hosing off the sidewalk and street with an unknown liquid, which experts warn could send harmful chemical agents that have accumulated on the surface into Portland’s storm drains and watershed.

Specifically, the lawmakers want to know, no later than August 6:

  • What chemicals and/or gases have been deployed or utilized in the course of law enforcement activity in response to protests in Portland? 
  • What measures are being taken to comply with material data sheets and applicable usage guidelines for these chemicals?  
  • Are any grenades or cartridges expired? If so, what are the health, safety, and environmental risks from using expired gases? 
  • What environmental review and risk assessments for environmental and public health has EPA conducted regarding these chemicals and/or gases? 
  • What air and water quality monitoring has been conducted in the area of these discharges, and what are the results to date? 

A PDF copy of the letter sent today to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Whitman is available here.