The Philadelphia protest was one of many instances in recent days in which police launched tear gas — a toxic substance that can cause lung damage — into crowds. In a statement, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that officers had no choice but to release it after protesters threw rocks at them and refused to disperse, and that officers also used nonchemical white smoke to minimize the amount of the irritant “while maintaining a deterrent visual effect.” She called it “a means to safely [defuse] a volatile and dangerous situation.”
But tear gas is not safe, according to a number of experts interviewed by ProPublica. It has been found to cause long-term health consequences and can hurt those who aren’t the intended targets, including people inside their homes.
This would be enough of a problem in normal times, but now, experts say, the widespread, sometimes indiscriminate use of tear gas on American civilians in the midst of a respiratory pandemic threatens to worsen the coronavirus, along with racial disparities in its spread and who dies from it.
“As an immunologist, it scares me,” said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergy and immunology doctor at NYU Langone Health. “We just got through a brutal two months, and I’m really scared this will bring a second wave [of COVID-19] sooner.”