Scientists Identified a Green, Poisonous Gas Used by Federal Agents on Portland Protesters
The toxic chemical is more than an alternative type of tear gas
By July, Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland had become accustomed to the gray, black, and colorless tear gas that wafted through the city streets every night. But that month, they started seeing plumes of an unusual green smoke, too. Puddles of greenish residue seeped into the city’s storm drains. Human rights advocates and conservationists called on the local government to investigate the environmental impact of these chemical weapons, which had been deployed by the police, but no new chemicals were identified to the public.
Juniper L. Simonis, PhD, a volunteer protest medic whose pronouns are they/them, scanned Portland’s storm drains for clues. Simonis, who is also a quantitative investigator with a doctorate in aquatic ecology, knew that identifying the new substance would be essential to protecting protesters and the environment from its effects. In lieu of information from the government, they hoped for harder evidence: the cast-off gas canisters, which might contain traces of the chemicals.
They didn’t expect to read the evidence right on the label. Simonis and other volunteers eventually collected dozens of canisters they traced to the new weapon. Several still bore the logo of their manufacturer, Defense Technologies, and the label “HC,” indicating that these canisters had once contained a chemical agent that was unlike anything Black Lives Matter protesters had seen in Portland or elsewhere.
After a summer of protests downtown, police and protesters had developed a sort of ritual. Every evening between late May and mid-July, as protesters gathered in the plaza in front of the Justice Center, police stood by while activists listened to speeches and led chants. If the crowd started to march through the city, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) followed behind in armored cars and on foot. At any point, officers might fire less-lethal munitions at protesters, including tear gas, flash-bangs, and smoke grenades. At the end of each evening, a few officers picked up the bulk of the solid debris left behind by these munitions. Residue from these munitions was left untouched on the ground.