A year after racial justice protests across the country sparked violent clashes between activists and law enforcement, House Democrats on Thursday opened an investigation into the health effects of gas use tear gas by the police.
Two subcommittees of the House Monitoring and Reform Committee began the investigation by asking companies that manufacture and sell tear gas and certain government agencies to produce a wide range of documents, seeking to determine whether the government federal made safe enough to use on humans.
“The United States has agreed not to use tear gas in wartime,” wrote four Democrats, including the subcommittee chairs, in a letter to agencies and businesses. “However, tear gas is frequently used in this country by law enforcement as a ‘riot control agent’.”
“Given this home use, we would have expected analysis to show tear gas products to be safe for humans, but we didn’t see that,” they wrote. “In fact, the evidence suggests that tear gas may be linked to long-term adverse health effects in those exposed. “
The letter was signed by Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois and Chairman of the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee; Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and Chairman of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee; and two high-level progressives on the subcommittees, Representatives Cori Bush from Missouri and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York.
Lawmakers said they had “been unable to determine whether there was federal oversight regarding the composition or safety of these products.”
At least 100 law enforcement agencies – many in large cities – used a form of tear gas against civilians to protest police brutality and racism last summer, according to New York Times analysis . 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 1970s, the Times reported.
In their letter, lawmakers cited information from The The Bharat Express News that military personnel exposed to tear gas during basic training were 2.5 times more likely to be later diagnosed with acute respiratory illness after their exposure to tear gas than before exposure.
“The researchers expressed concerns about the strengthening of tear gas formulations over time and how this might affect 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 Department of Justice and the companies Safariland, Combined Systems and Pacem Defense.
Safariland announced last year that it was quitting the tear gas business after its product was used on protesters in Washington.
Lawmakers have called on federal agencies to investigate the effect of tear gas on human health and the feasibility of setting standards for the substances. For the companies, their requests included a list of all the U.S. entities they sold tear gas to, a description of the safety tests performed, and all internal documents relating to any negative effects on human health from tear gas.