Environmental, public health, and social justice groups file legal challenge against DHS citing lack of analysis on impacts of teargas to human health and the environment

JANUARY 24, 2022: We filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenging DHS’s use of chemical munitions during the 2020 racial justice protests, in violation of environmental law.

Read on for more information about the case we filed in 2020.

OCTOBER 20, 2020

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) planned to quell the racial justice protests in Portland in an action called “Operation Diligent Valor.” As part of this operation, DHS repeatedly subjected people at or in the vicinity of the protests to an unprecedented volume of weapons including but not limited to tear gas and other chemical munitions, impact munitions, marking munitions, rubber ball blast devices, flash bangs, and other military-style weapons and tactics.

On multiple occasions, DHS specifically targeted tear gas and other chemical munitions at people of all ages, races, and genders standing in groups that espoused support for the Black Lives Matter movement, at journalists and legal observers attempting to report on and record the abuse, and at medics present to provide care and safety to the protesters. As our clients (Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Neighbors for Clean Air, Cascadia Wildlands, Willamette Riverkeeper, 350PDX) described in their declarations, often there has been no escape route for people to get away from the chemical clouds. Tear gas and other chemical munitions from Operation Diligent Valor have infiltrated nearby residences, schools, federal and local government buildings, businesses, and parks. Further, tear gas and other chemical munitions may have permeated Portland’s urban trees and other vegetation. 

The excessive use of tear gas and other chemical weapons resulted in visible munitions residue and NCAP uses the term “tear gas and other chemical munitions” to encompass all forms of noxious has and other chemical weapons used for crowd control, including but not limited to CS gas, which is the most commonly used type of tear gas, OC gas, HC smoke, and pepper balls. Limited information about specific chemical compounds and risks to human and environmental well-being are publicly available from the weapons manufacturers. The U.S. Army recently mandated changes to CS-gas use on its own troops due to “profound” health effects on service people. Sediment accumulated in and on Portland’s streets, sidewalks, curbs, bioswales, stormwater system, buildings, and standing water, and have been transported and conveyed to the Willamette River banks and waters. 

This case challenges DHS’s unprecedented use of tear gas and other chemical munitions in Operation Diligent Valor without ever evaluating the potentially severe environmental and human health impacts of these weapons in an EIS, EA, or otherwise complying with NEPA, the federal law demanding that executive agencies think about these very impacts before they undertake such a major action.