Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Says It Is Investigating the Federal Rinsing of Tear Gas Into Storm Drains

Other lawmakers called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate.

A drummer beats out a rhythm as tear gas pours out from the federal courthouse. (Alex Wittwer)

After video surfaced of federal agents hosing contaminants off of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse—where tear gas and pepper spray have been deployed—the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services said the discharge technique is "not permissible" and that the city agency is currently investigating.

"NOT allowed – hosing off contaminants into the street and to storm drains," BES wrote in a tweet responding to a video posted of agents hosing off contaminants. "There is no permit because this kind of discharge is not permissible.…We do not expect to have additional information for some time as we continue this investigation."

The impact that chemical riot control agents like CS gas and pepper spray have on the environment are largely unknown. The city's stormwater flows into the sewer system.

That's why earlier today, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and state Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to investigate which specific chemical agents were used on protesters and how that could impact "human health, wildlife, aquatic life, and local air and water quality."

"Gases have been deployed on peaceful protesters with little or no prior notice, resulting in exposure to unknown chemical agents," Blumenauer and Power wrote in a joint statement Thursday. "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."

Power and Blumenauer called for an investigation after video surfaced of courthouse personnel using hoses to rinse the grounds of the federal courthouse, which is probably laden with chemical agents. They wrote that they are concerned the chemical agents could be rinsed into storm drains and the local watershed.

The lawmakers demanded answers to a series of questions, with an Aug. 6 deadline.

Specifically, the lawmakers want to know, no later than Aug. 6:

  • What chemicals and/or gases have been deployed or utilized in the course of law enforcement activity in response to protests in Portland?
  • What measures are being taken to comply with material data sheets and applicable usage guidelines for these chemicals?
  • Are any grenades or cartridges expired? If so, what are the health, safety and environmental risks from using expired gases?
  • What environmental review and risk assessments for environmental and public health has EPA conducted regarding these chemicals and/or gases?
  • What air and water quality monitoring has been conducted in the area of these discharges, and what are the results to date?

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