Environmental groups sue DHS over use of tear gas at Portland protests

Five environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday for using tear gas at the protests in Portland, Ore.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon and others represented the environmental groups that filed the lawsuit accusing the agency of deploying “an unprecedented amount of dangerous chemical weapons” without first checking the potential environmental impacts. 

The groups allege that DHS violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to examine the effects of the chemicals on the environment before using them against protesters demonstrating against racial injustice and police brutality. 


The environmental groups taking on the federal government include Neighbors for Clean Air, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Cascadia Wildlands, 350PDX and Willamette Riverkeeper. 

These organizations are calling on DHS to stop using chemicals like tear gas for crowd control until the agency studies the health and environmental impacts and publishes that information. 

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The deployment of tear gas, pepper spray and other chemicals during the Portland protests,, have reportedly been connected to symptoms, such as loss of appetite, hair loss and irregular menstrual cycles, according to a release

The chemicals have also stayed in Portland after deployment and have been found on vegetation, on buildings and in streets, prompting worries that the stormwater system is carrying the chemicals to the Willamette River. 

The lawsuit says “the presence of chemicals, sediment, and munitions debris … in the Willamette River waters can cause negative effects to recreationalists, as well as wildlife.”

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Kelly Simon, the interim legal director of ACLU Oregon, said in a statement that “environmental hazards and police violence disproportionately” affect Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities and other people of color. 

“The large volumes of tear gas and other chemical weapons that federal officers recklessly and thoughtlessly unleashed in Portland is yet more evidence of the Trump administration’s racist disregard for public health and a safe living environment,” she said. “So we will see them in court, again.”

Protests in Portland have continued since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody in May. President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE sent federal authorities to quell the demonstrations over the summer, leading to confrontations between federal officers and protesters. 

Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services determined in a report last month that cyanide and heavy metals like chromium and zinc appeared at higher levels in stormwater catch basins near a protest site than elsewhere in the city, according to The Associated Press