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Alder Juliana Bennett

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Alder Juliana Bennett

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Alder Bennett’s Blog

Scientific Research on the Harmful Short-term and Long-term Health and Environmental Impacts of Chemical Munitions

September 19, 2022 1:05 PM

Scientific Research on the Harmful Short-term and Long-term Health and Environmental Impacts of Chemical Munitions

 

Source Link for Interview with Dr. Simonis: https://voca.ro/1lmZGr5SOgce

 

"The use of poison in any manner, be it to poison wells, or food, or arms, is wholly excluded from modern warfare. He that uses it puts himself out on the pale of the law and usages of war" General Orders No. 100, Article 70, signed Abraham Lincoln 1863

 

Chemical munitions are dangerous weapons. Yes, this is a statement that comes as no surprise to anyone that has done minimal research on chemical munitions. The question that we are often left with is how dangerous are chemical munitions. I interviewed Dr. Juniper Simonis to help us answer this question. Dr. Simonis (they/them) holds a Phd in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University. They currently own and operate Dapper Stats, a data science consulting company based in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Simonis' expertise in ecology and environmental biology led them to found the Chemical Munitions Research Center to study impacts of chemical munitions. Dr. Simonis' research ultimately found that chemical munitions have short term and long term human and environmental health impacts that must be considered when evaluating the merits of utilizing indiscriminate weapons.

 

History of Chemical Munitions

Chemical munitions were outlawed for American warfare by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The Hague Conventions of 1899, 1907, and 1928 further banned the use of chemical weapons for warfare on an international level. The US Army Chemical Warfare Service continued to research and develop chemical munitions. In the early 1930s the US Army developed Hexachloroethane or "smoke", which was soon deemed as a poisonous chemical agent in the mid-1940s (OSHA, 2008). Despite the early warnings of the health and environmental impacts of such chemical munitions, they soon migrated from military use to officer use as a means to turn a "protest into a screaming mob" (Kirby, 2020). We should take note of how backwards it is that chemical munitions are an agent deemed too unsafe, inhumane, and unethical to use in times of military warfare and yet completely appropriate in domestic situations of civil unrest. 

 

Research Methods

Dr. Simonis also found the use of chemical munitions to be problematic. Their eye-opening became especially clear after having first hand experience with these weapons, when they were caught between the exchange of the Portland Police Department deploying tear gas and devoid of escape routes as a disabled person with a service dog (Simonis, 2022). Dr. Simonis then decided to use their expertise as an ecologist and biologist to study the health and environmental impacts of chemical munitions. 

 

To do so, Dr. Simonis conducted a field study of cases in which chemical munitions were deployed in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Simonis and their team of doctors within the Chemical Weapons Research Center then recovered shell casings of exploded and not exploded indiscriminate weapons, physical items that had been exposed to chemical munitions, and human studies on exposure to chemical munitions. Dr. Simonis also took samples of the earth and waterways where chemical munitions were deployed. Following a detailed research study of chemical munitions, Dr. Simonis was able to clearly define the differences between chemical munitions and produce findings of the impact of these weapons. 

 

Definitions

  • Indiscriminate weapon: a weapon that is used in a manner, where the deployer cannot control who is getting impacted by the weapon. 
    • For example, a knife is not an indiscriminate weapon, because it has a clear target and cannot unintentionally impact anyone other than the intended target. Chemical munitions on the other hand cannot be controlled to impact solely the intended target. 
    • Indiscriminate weapons do not care if you are a protestor, an officer, a medic, a journalist, a child, a disabled person, or even an innocent bystander. 
  • Tool v. weapon: a tool is an item used to achieve a desired end; a weapon is an item used to inflict physical harm to another. A tool can also be a weapon--they do not need to be mutually exclusive. 
    • For example, the nuclear weapon was a tool used to end World War II. It was also a weapon, because it caused physical harm to those exposed to the weapon. 
  • CS spray v. OC spray: 
    • ?Similarities--CS spray and OC spray are both forms of tear gas. Tear gas is any agent that causes tearing in the eyes. Both CS spray and OC spray can cause lacrimation (tearing of the eyes), dyspnea (labored breathing), coughing, chest pain, nausea, mucosal irritation, new or worsened asthma, and delayed and prolonged inflammation of skin and internal organs. 
    • Differences--CS spray and OC have similar physical impacts; however, they have different chemical means of producing those physical reactions. 
  • CS spray is synthetic--produced in a lab. Therefore, chemists know for the most part what is going into CS spray. Thus, they know that CS spray is an endocrine disruptor. In other words, it disrupts the complex network of glands and organs used to regulate your body's metabolism, energy level, insulin levels, and reproduction levels. 
  • OC spray is naturally occurring, derived from peppers. No, the same peppers that one uses to season their eggs are not the same peppers used for OC spray. Rather OC spray is made up of F-grade peppers that are deemed unsafe for human consumptiond. The problem with naturally-occuring chemicals is that scientists cannot control what is in the spray. One chemical that scientists know is in OC spray is capsaicin. Capsaicin is a known cancer-causing chemical and instigator of lifelong asthma.
    • On the Scoville (SHU) heat score of peppers, OC spray has significantly higher concentrations of SHU, lasting in longer effects. Ie. a bell pepper has 0 SHU, a jalapeno pepper has 2500 - 5000 SHU, and OC spray has 500,000 - 2,000,000 SHU (some even measure to 5,300,000). In other words, OC spray is a highly concentrated, highly toxic form of tear gas. 

**Thus, we must dispel the myth that CS spray is somehow more safe than OC spray. Both are dangerous, toxic weapons that we must be weary of. 

 

  • Impact projectiles (ie. pepper balls): pepper balls are concentrated balls of a powdered form of the materials used for OC spray that explode upon impact. The problem with pepper balls is that they have a low success rate of actually exploding; thus, after a protest there could be dozens of unexploded pepper balls that would be extremely harmful to anyone that happens to pick it up. 

**There are other forms of chemical munitions noted in the interview, for further research. 

 

Findings 

"A lot more [chemical munitions] are being used than people think. [Chemical munitions are] persisting longer. And [chemical munitions are] moving further through the environment." ~Dr. Simonis

 

Law enforcement officers often do not use safety guidelines for chemical munitions.

Police departments often do not follow (whether knowingly or unknowingly) chemical munitions safety guidelines, including length of time to deploy the weapon, amount of the weapon to use at one time, distance at which to deploy the weapon and more. For example, CS and OC spray often have safety guidelines to deploy the weapons 25 feet away from the protestors (MPD SOPs, 2022) and within 3 minute intervals. However, law enforcement officers clearly do not follow these safety guidelines. Consider MPD's use of chemical munitions during 2020. There are several photos and stories of MPD using chemical munitions against people at point-blank range. Law enforcement officers not using chemical munitions within the safety guidelines can cause negative health impacts, including blindness, seizures, and even death (Simonis, 2022). 

 

Chemical munitions can have long term human and environmental impacts.

Chemical munitions spread further through the environment than is recognized in public. Research indicates that a person standing 200 yards, or 3 city blocks, from the initial deployment of chemical munitions can experience physical effects within 24 minutes of deployment (Simonis, 2021). A person 1000 yards away (.9 mi) from the deployment can experience physical symptoms 2.5 hours after deployment. Dr. Simonis' research also indicates that the chemical agents of CS spray, OC spray, and impact projectiles are still active weeks after their initial deployment. For example, one case of chemical munitions deployment indicates that persons experience physical symptoms (ie. shortness of breath) within the area of deployment 24 hours after the initial deployment. Other cases indicate that naturally-occuring chemicals, such as capsaicin, were still active and potent two weeks after deployment. Research indicates that chemical munitions not only flowed through protestors, but also through the protective gear of journalists, medics, legal observers, bystanders, the densely grassed urban landscape, and even entered the city's waterways. Furthermore, these weapons are strategically designed to not move from the area of deployment, unless physically moved by pressurized water. 

This research means that person(s) around that enter an area where chemical munitions were deployed can experience the impact of the weapons for weeks at a time. Furthermore, it indicates that chemical munitions can remain in and impact the environment (grass, trees, waterways, etc.) for an unknown period of time. Given the fact that MPD nor any other agency conducts significant environmental cleanup following the deployment of chemical munitions, council should consider the long term health and environmental impacts we are allowing in our city. 

 

Final Case: Recovering 20 rounds of pepper balls at an elementary school

One final case I wanted to bring forward was a situation in which Dr. Simonis recovered over 20 rounds of pepper balls at an elementary school playground. The police department had deployed indiscriminate weapons including pepper balls and OC spray near an elementary school. Dr. Simonis then recovered a canister of chemical munitions off of the roof of an elementary school and picked up pepper balls from an elementary school playground, including the children's sandbox. Beyond the concerns about how the police department deployed these weapons near a school, Dr. Simonis was extremely concerned that the police did not recover the physical weapons that were deployed and how this would impact a child if they picked up the weapons. 

 

Conclusion

Overall, wherever you stand on the chemical munitions issue, we have a duty to examine the health and environmental impacts we are indiscriminately exposing people to when utilizing these weapons.

 




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