Subcommittees Release Memo Detailing Health Risks from Tear Gas and Lack of Federal Regulation

Companies Make Millions Selling Tear Gas Despite Knowledge of Dangers to Health and Safety

October 15, 2021

Washington, D.C. (October 14, 2021)—Today, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, and Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, released a staff memo revealing that the federal government does not regulate the use of tear gas on humans and has never determined if such use is safe.  The memo also found that tear gas manufacturers have willingly taken advantage of the lack of federal tear gas regulation and that the health effects of tear gas on humans is still woefully understudied. 

“In the wake of nationwide protests against racial injustice in 2020, federal law enforcement agents deployed by the Trump Administration used tear gas on peaceful protesters, as did law enforcement agencies in 100 cities across the United States.  Despite the frequent weaponization of tear gas against protestors, there are still insufficient studies on its long-term health effects.  This investigation has revealed a complete void in the regulation of tear gas, a weapon that is banned in war yet commonly used against U.S. citizens,” said the Chairs.

“Tear gas is not an inconvenience, it is a weapon of war.  I know what it’s like to have tear gas fired at me — my eyes, skin, and lungs burning in the fog of that horrific weapon — and to desperately search for something to relieve the terrible pain,” said Rep. Cori Bush, a Member of the Subcommittees on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Economic and Consumer Policy.  “For too long, tear gas has been abused by law enforcement.  I thank Oversight Subcommittee Chairs Krishnamoorthi and Raskin and my colleague Rep. Ocasio-Cortez for their partnership in prioritizing my request to investigate tear gas and its use on protesters.  This memorandum makes clear what so many of us already know: that tear gas is dangerous, and despite this, manufacturers have continued to profit off its sale, and law enforcement agencies have had free rein to use it against protesters across the country.  This unregulated, violent, and deadly chemical weapon can cause long-lasting health damage to activists, including asthma, respiratory failure, and even death.  It is past time our nation reckoned with its ongoing history of racial, social, economic, and environmental violence.  America must correct its failures. Until then, activists like me will continue to show up in the streets — not because we want to, but because it is what is necessary to build the just, safe, and equitable country we all deserve.  For protest to truly be a right, we must ensure that we are never again met with weapons of war on our streets.”

The memo summarizes findings and documents from relevant federal agencies and from three major tear gas manufacturers as part of the Subcommittees’ investigation into the human health effects of tear gas and how the federal government regulates its uses. 

Below are highlights from the memo:

  • The federal government does not regulate the safety of tear gas used against people in the United States and has not conducted epidemiological research to determine whether it is safe to use.
  • The limited studies that have been conducted on the health effects of tear gas show that risks from exposure include acute respiratory illness and gastrointestinal and menstrual effects.
  • U.S. tear gas manufacturers acknowledge that tear gas is dangerous and that “injury and/or damage can be expected,” whenever it is used.
  • U.S. tear gas manufacturers have earned significant revenue from selling tear gas products, despite the known serious risks tear gas poses to human health and safety.
  • In the absence of federal guidance, manufacturers and law enforcement have free rein to self-regulate.  Tear gas manufacturers defer to law enforcement, and some law enforcement associations have failed to implement strict standards for tear gas use, with one association claiming law enforcement does not need a “formula” to determine whether it is safe to use tear gas because they “don’t need a formula to use other forms of force.”

In June 2021, Chairman Krishnamoorthi, Chairman Raskin, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Cori Bush sent letters to the three leading tear gas manufacturers requesting documents and information regarding the safety of tear gas products manufactured by their companies.  The Members also sent letters to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan seeking information on federal oversight of the use of tear gas products on humans.

Click here to read today’s staff memo.