A year after racial justice protests across the country touched off violent clashes between activists and law enforcement, House Democrats on Thursday launched an investigation into the health effects of tear gas use by police.
Two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform began the investigation by asking companies that make and sell tear gas and some government agencies to produce a wide range of documents, to determine whether the federal government had enough to be done that the substance is safe to use on humans.
“The United States has agreed not to use tear gas in war,” four Democrats, including the chairmen of subcommittees, wrote in a letter to agencies and companies. “However, tear gas is often used by law enforcement in this country as a ‘riot control agent’.”
“Given this home use, we would expect an analysis to show that tear gas products are safe to use on humans, but we have not seen this,” he wrote. “In fact, evidence suggests that tear gas may be associated with long-term adverse health effects for those exposed.”
The letter was signed by Representative Raja Krishnamurthy, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy; Jamie Ruskin, Democrat of Maryland and chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; and two high-profile progressives on subcommittees, Representative Corey Bush of Missouri and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The lawmakers said they are “unable to determine whether there is any federal oversight regarding the composition or safety of these products.”
According to one analysis, at least 100 law enforcement agencies – many in large cities – used some form of tear gas last summer against citizens protesting police brutality and racism. The brief period saw the most widespread domestic use of tear gas against protesters since the long years of unrest in the late 1960s and early ’70s, The Times reports.
In their letter, the lawmakers cited reporting by The Associated Press that military personnel exposed to tear gas in basic training were later diagnosed with acute respiratory illness after being exposed to tear gas than before exposure. The probability was 2.5 times.
“Researchers have expressed concerns about the strength of tear gas formulations over time and how this may factor into the long-term health risks of exposure,” they wrote.
Democrats are seeking information from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department, and the companies Safariland, United Systems and Pacem Defense.
Safariland announced last year that it was leaving the tear gas business. After using its product on protesters in Washington.
The lawmakers asked federal agencies for any research into the effects of tear gas products on human health and the feasibility of setting standards for the substances. As for the companies, their requests included a list of all US entities that sold tear gas products, details of safety testing and all internal documentation relating to any negative health effects on humans from tear gas.