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Tear gas not regulated by the US government, safety studies missing despite widespread use: house signs

WASHINGTON – The federal government does not regulate tear gas safety and has not conducted an epidemiological study of its health effects despite its widespread use by law enforcement to fight rioting, lawmakers said from the House in a note released Thursday.

Tear gas manufacturers, on the other hand, recognize that their product is dangerous and that “injury and / or damage can be expected” when used, the note said. He added that limited studies have shown that the risks of exposure include “acute respiratory illness and gastrointestinal and menstrual effects.”

Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., Who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, opened the joint investigation with the committee’s civil rights subcommittee after hearing from Representative Cori Bush , D-Mo., That the women had suffered long-term health consequences after exposure to tear gas, according to the memo.

The investigation, which comes after fierce clashes over racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 and in the months leading up to and following the 2020 election, found that the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency do not regulate chemicals and “in the absence of federal guidelines, manufacturers and law enforcement have free rein to self-regulate.”

The panels found “tangential only” monitoring of tear gas unrelated to its use in riot control; which includes Department of Transportation regulations on shipping, Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations on worker safety during manufacturing, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulations on the sale of tear gas containing explosives.

“People shouldn’t have to worry that if they attend a non-violent protest, are in the vicinity of a law enforcement action, or if medical workers are assisting injured people, they may be exposed to harm. poison with unknown effects, ”said members of the subcommittees. in a press release in June.

That month, lawmakers sent letters to three major tear gas manufacturers and several federal agencies requesting product safety documents and information.

“The use of tear gas is woefully under-researched given the recent increase in its use,” the memo concludes.

The chemical has been used in at least 100 U.S. cities in the first six months of 2020 alone, lawmakers said in their memo, noting that “widespread domestic use contrasts sharply with the lack of U.S. use of tear gas against our enemies in wartime – tear gas is prohibited for use in wartime as a chemical weapon by an international treaty. “

National incidents have included law enforcement 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 after George Floyd’s death in May 2020.

Since then, lawmakers have insisted on obtaining information on tear gas safety and health effects.