Jungle Gyms and Grenades: Chemical Warfare in Portland and the Lasting Impacts at a Nearby School
Early this morning I met up with lead scientist at DAPPER LLC and founder of the Chemical Weapons Research Consortium Dr. Juniper L. Simonis at The Cottonwood Elementary School of Civics and Science, a tuition-free public charter school that teaches children in grades K-8, to clean up the chemical munitions that were left behind in the schools playground by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Yes, you read that right- the children’s playground. Since activists took to the streets early last summer, law enforcement has been using chemical weapons that are both a threat to human lives as well as an environmental threat in order to suppress free speech. Chemical weapons that are banned from being used during war, yet for some reason America has no issue unloading these chemicals on individuals practicing their first amendment rights night after night in Portland, Oregon.
Teargas has been no stranger to those protesting in Portland. As noted by multiple local journalists and activists in the scene, there was a noticeable shift the second half of July in the use of chemical weapons. A few weeks into Fed War, or “Operation Diligent Valor” which is the official name for the violent military occupation federal agents were deployed for in order to quell the protests, both quality and quantity of the chemical weapons they were using changed. Federal agents from numerous agencies (some of which are still completely undisclosed as federal officers were abducting Portland residents off the streets) began drastically increasing the amount of canisters they would launch each time they would attack, they began using a wider variety of smokes and gasses, as well as countless expired munitions that are toxic and poisonous in their own ways that we’re largely unsure of. The chemical weapons deployed on citizens practicing their first amendment rights cause immediate side effects and health problems, and these symptoms have only been intensifying for many people.
In the days to follow Fed War, there has been a continued use of these chemical weapons as these tactics have been consistently used by federal agents such as DHS, as well as US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ICE Special Response Team (SRT), The Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), as well as replicated by the Portland Police Bureau as they continue to escalate. For the majority of the summer, demonstrations were pretty centralized to downtown as everything was taking place at the (In)Justice Center and the Federal Courthouse. As soon as activists started holding demonstrations at different precincts, federal agents and the police were still unleashing chemical warfare, only then they had began doing it in residential neighborhoods, gassing children that were asleep in their own homes- and at the ICE building, fumigating an entire school.
The Cottonwood school is located in South Waterfront in Portland and is neighbor to the ICE Detention Center where federal agents frequently emerge from to shower Portland skies with chemicals that are banned in war. Dr. Simonis explained how over the last few days “DHS agents have released munitions in and around the school yard. What I’m focusing here on in particular is the chemical weapons.” They helped walk me through some soil sampling as well as what it looks like searching for spent munitions on the schools grounds in order to test them to see just how harmful these carcinogenic substances are to children- and once again, these are all from munitions that were shot onto the schools playground.
While we were at the school we met a few very concerned staff members. Amanda McAdoo, the schools director, explained to us how they frequently have to clean the playground after demonstrations at ICE where they consistently find casings and powder from pepper bullets, sometimes even full unspent rounds. After some brief introductions we were ready to get to work, but only after Dr. Simonis exclaimed that it was crucial anyone helping out wear a respirator, eye protection, and chemical resistant gloves. The work started by measuring the space in the play area, a space that Dr. Simonis referred to as an “active” area as the school staff explained how children are always playing here and digging in this very dirt. Folks dug around for munitions, which were entirely too easy to come by as they were everywhere, and soil samples were taken, placed in plastic baggies near the marking flags that were set up and spaced at a carefully measured distance, then labeled to later be picked up and tested to see just what combination of deadly chemicals are poisoning our children and earth.
The schools PE teacher, Jake, walked up to Dr. Simonis and I and presented a few soft-ball sized munitions that he found in the playground. Dr. Simonis was appalled and responded to this saying, “you’re talking about a softball sized thing that rattles, being left on the ground in a neighborhood where not only is there a school, but kids that live, walk and play around here. And people who are curious who might pick it up and be like ‘what is this?’ and shake it… and those things, even if they’re a dud it could still explode depending on where the malfunction happened… they’re not completely safe.” Not only are these munitions dangerous as is, but the small rubber balls that they shoot out when they detonate that we found all over the playground were covered in CS gas in powder form.
Dr. Simonis moves on to a smaller version of those rubber balls that are covered in CS powder. They explain how at the moment, they appear to be coming out of shot gun shells, though they sometimes come out of the hand grenades, and while they are not a chemical weapon nor are the tiny ones covered in powder, these tiny balls are the same size as salmon eggs and frequently end up in our sewers and water. They explain that the fish who eat salmon eggs will die if they eat these, and went on to tell me just how toxic the material is once its broken down in our water.
Finally, we have a smattering of pepper bullets, a chemical irritant that is in powder form and placed inside a hard plastic casing. While going through all the munitions uncovered this morning in the schools playground we reached the last of the impact munitions (gas to follow), which just so happens to be what I saw the most of. It was EVERYWHERE. There was white residue from the powder all over, as well as casings and full unspent rounds. Most of the pepper balls that were recovered were of the red and black casing variety which Dr. Simonis describes to be their “Live X” line, which is a mix of OC and Kava (a synthetic capsaicin), as well as a handful of purple and white balls that they call “inert” but they are actually full of talc- which has well documented cancer causing properties. Why remove talc from baby powder if the US government is going to poison children while they’re at school?
While the demonstrations at ICE have happened countless times, Dr. Simonis and mutual aid groups such as Team Raccoon regularly head back to South Waterfront the next morning after a night of chemical warfare in order to clean the neighborhood and pick up any spent munitions before they cause any more harm. Team Raccoon also provides respirators to children in neighborhoods LEO frequently gas. Because of this, the munitions that we recovered today are just what is left from the night of the Inauguration, as well the following two days- January 20th, 21st, and 23rd- where large amounts of munitions were released. January 23rd in particular is the night that Dr. Simonis worries The Cottonwood School was threatened the most. Rather than push activists up S Moody Ave. away from the ICE building, they pushed the group up SW Bancroft St. which is right in front of the school, and they did this with a bunch of chemical weapons.
In the tweet below, you can see the federal agents begin to push us back towards the school at around the 40 second mark.
Here you can see the federal officers holding a line in front of The Cottonwood School as they shoot munitions and teargas floats in the sky behind them.
OC Gas (Oleoresin Capsicum)
On January 23rd, 2021, a DHS officer rolled this Pocket Tactical OC grenade down the sidewalk as if they were bowling with their buddies. The grenade rolled right into the front gate of the school and the canister deployed, fumigating the entire playground. Now might be a good time to remind everyone that we don’t even know the full extent of the health risks that come along with exposure to these chemicals for adults, let alone the health risks and long term effects for children. I can’t imagine that its good. Common side effects and symptoms of exposure include irritated skin/pain, burning eyes, coughing, sneezing, ear pain, runny nose, cramps and an overall increase in menstrual symptoms.
CS GAS (2-Chlorobenzalmalononitrile)
When speaking with the schools director, Amanda was asked about her thoughts being located right next door to ICE and whether or not she had any concerns for the school and the children who attended Cottonwood; Amanda tells us “the protest part isn’t what’s concerning to me… its the munitions part thats concerning to me. It’s the reactions of the federal government and having a public school that’s getting gassed.” The same night the Pocket Tactical OC grenade got launched at the school and fumigated the entire playground, another federal agent launched a CS gas canister that Dr. Simonis describes as the most egregious munition to hit the school that night. They explain how the CS Triple Chaser canister got launched at the school and they actually had to climb up and cut it out of the plastic roofing (roofing that children sit and play under) after the munition itself embedded into the roof. “They burn at something near 600 degrees centigrade and you know, this kind of material is not meant to handle that… it probably would have burned its way through if it hadn’t gone out in the moment that it did. However, its still full of highly corrosive, potentially flammable, and definitely actively chemically agent material inside here, and it was found literally just hitting here, on the school yards roof,” explains Dr. Simonis about the CS munition. Common side effects and symptoms of exposure include: burning eyes, teary eyes, irritated skin/pain, coughing, sneezing, ear pain, runny nose, ovarian cysts, cramps, and an overall increase in menstrual symptoms, difficulty breathing, dizziness. These are just some of the frequent side effects, there are many more serious and less serious side effects, as well as long term effects that we just don’t know about yet. Did you know that teargas is an abortifacient that can cause miscarriage? CS gas can have a clastogenic effect (abnormal chromosome change) on mammalian cells, and while there is still not that much research on the matter, there is reason to believe that it can cause infertility as well.
These are just munitions that were uncovered from January 20th-23rd, 2021. It is important to keep in mind that the 20th and 23rd, federal agents were also using this pesticide fogger to gas activists near the school (around the 30 second mark in my tweet below), and we have no way of knowing just what exactly they were using, we have no way of finding out which chemical agents were used and sprayed on anti-ICE protesters without this research. Dr. Simonis has previously documented the use of HC, which is a deadly gas that emits Zinc Chloride. This added to the side effects and symptoms that people had been reporting, new symptoms such as sudden vomiting, severe headaches, chemical skin rashes and burns, loss of hair, nails, etc. (Dr, Simonis, 2021). This information and these findings are unfortunately not easy to come by either, as the US government does nothing to provide us with any answers. Earlier today across from the school at the ICE building, federal officers were asked for a comment on DHS and other federal agencies use of chemical weapons- they refused to answer. Dr. Simonis explains that “it took an incredible effort [to get this information] by frontline journalists, scientists, community leaders, legal observers, medics, and protesters to document the munitions” and peoples symptoms, etc in order to get the information needed to definitively tie this to the use of certain chemical agents such as HC used by DHS.
The fact that our militarized police and federal agents are committing chemical warfare on activists demanding justice and fighting for Black Lives is absolutely horrifying and atrocious. The fact that they are doing this to children and risking children’s lives while activists demand they stop putting kids in cages is just heartbreaking and unacceptable. If adults are experiencing all these side effects and symptoms, and the long term effects are still largely unknown, I really cannot imagine what these deadly chemicals can and will do to all the children in our community who are still in the process of developing and growing. These deadly chemical agents are recklessly and indiscriminately launched and the catastrophic damage to our bodies and environment must end at once. The playground soil is now in the process of being tested in a lab and I will provide an update with the results once they become available.
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