Oregon lawmakers ask for investigation into health, environmental effects of tear gas

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
July 30, 2020 7:12 p.m.

Oregon Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and State Rep. Karin Power are calling for an investigation into the public health and environmental impacts of chemical agents used on demonstrators in Portland.

The lawmakers are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to investigate the impacts of tear gas (also known as CS gas), pepper spray and other chemicals.


Related: 60-plus days of tear gas leaves lingering questions about environmental impacts

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

File photo by Alan Sylvestre / OPB


“At times, gases have been deployed on peaceful protesters with little or no prior notice, resulting in exposure to unknown chemical agents,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the agencies. “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.”

Blumenauer and Power are requesting answers to questions including what air and water quality monitoring has been conducted and what plans exist to clean up chemicals.

“Downtown Portland has not seen meaningful rainfall in the month of July while these chemicals have been sprayed repeatedly on demonstrators, and any surface accumulation of chemical elements deployed by officers has the concerning potential to wash directly into the Willamette River upon the next rainfall event,” the letter reads.

The lawmakers note the “respiratory irritation” caused by tear gas as well as examples of reproductive health impacts that have been reported by OPB.

Blumenauer and Power are also inquiring if any expired chemicals have been used on demonstrators, noting reports that people might have been exposed to a potentially different gas recently with a “chlorine smell” that has caused “nausea, vomiting and lasting headaches.”

“While we work to stop the use of these gases altogether, we are also seeking greater transparency about what chemicals have been deployed to date against protesters in Portland, and potential impacts on human health, wildlife, aquatic life, and local air and water quality,” the letter reads.

The lawmakers are requesting answers by no later than Aug. 6.