House lawmakers investigate the safety of tear gas use

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House lawmakers investigate the safety of tear gas use

WASHINGTON — The federal government does not regulate the safety of tear gas and has not conducted an epidemiological study of its health effects despite its widespread use by law enforcement agencies for riot control, House lawmakers said in a memo released Thursday.

Manufacturers of tear gas meanwhile, admit that their product is dangerous and injury can be expected when it is used. It added that limited studies have shown the risks from exposure include acute respiratory illness and gastrointestinal and menstrual effects. After hearing from Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., President Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. opened the joint inquiry with the committee's civil rights subcommittee after hearing from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. that women had long-term health consequences after tear gas exposure, the memo said.

The probe, which comes after violent clashes during the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 and the months leading up to and after the 2020 election, showed that the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency do not regulate chemical products and in the absence of federal guidance manufacturers and law enforcement have free rein to self-regulate. The panels found only tangential oversight of tear gas unrelated to its use in riot control, that includes Department of Transportation regulations on shipping, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rules on safety at manufacture, and Bureau of Industrial Safety and Health Administration rules on worker safety during manufacturing.

People should not have to worry that if they attend a non-violent protest, are in the vicinity of medical action, or are injured individuals aiding non-violent individuals, they may be exposed to poison with unknown effects, members of the subcommittees said in a news release in June.

That month, lawmakers sent letters to three leading tear gas manufacturers and several federal agencies requesting documents and information about the safety of the products.

Tear gas usage is woefully understudied given recent increases in its use, the memo concludes.

The chemical product was used in at least 100 U.S. cities in the first six months of 2020 alone, lawmakers said in their memo, noting that the widespread use stands in stark contrast to the lack of U.S. use of tear gas against our enemies in war — tear gas is banned from use as a chemical weapon by international treaty. Domestic incidents include law enforcement agencies' use of pepper spray, tear gas and what appeared to be rubber bullets against people protesting unprovoked police violence against African Americans near the White House following the death of George Floyd in May 2020.

Since then, lawmakers have been adamant about getting information on the safety of tear gas and the health outcomes.