According to Juniper Simonis, an environmental biologist and data scientist with The Chemical Weapons Research Consortium, which studies the effects of chemical agents on protesters, Federal agents in Portland used toxic and potentially deadly smoke grenades more than two dozen times over the summer as they attempted to disperse demonstrators protesting for social and racial justice.
Simonis, who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against local, state and federal officers for violating the rights of people with disabilities through aggressive police responses to racial justice protests, and a cadre of volunteers began collecting spent munition canisters from around the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, the focal point of the nightly protests and where the majority of suppression efforts by federal agents took place.
Among the pepper balls and tear gas canisters, Simonis and the volunteers found several canisters marked “MAXIMUM HC SMOKE MILITARY-STYLE CANISTER,” manufactured by a company called Defense Technology, which sells crowd-control weapons to law enforcement. The “HC” stands for hexachloroethane, a common ingredient in smoke devices that the Environmental Protection Agency has classified as a likely carcinogen.
Using firsthand accounts, video and photos from protests in July, Simonis found that federal agents used HC smoke grenades at least 25 times during downtown demonstrations and at least once at a protest outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in southwest Portland…
Simonis took spent canisters, clothing worn by demonstrators, a scrap of tent fabric from a medic tent near the courthouse and a soil sample to a lab in Clackamas County for analysis.
On the spent grenade, the analysis turned up known toxins like benzene and toluene, but, of more concern to Simonis, they also showed the grenades contained chromium, lead and zinc.
All three are heavy metals, which can be harmful to human health and the environment, but zinc, when it’s super heated and turned into a gas, can be incredibly toxic, sometimes fatal…Safety data sheets for the HC grenades listed zinc oxide as a “hazardous ingredient” in both 1994 and 2005, but a 2011 version of the document doesn’t mention the heavy metal.
“This is a complete and utter misuse of a chemical weapon that could be lethal. We’re talking about heavy metal poisoning.”
-Dr. Juniper Simonis, an environmental biologist and data scientist with The Chemical Weapons Research Consortium