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Bureau of Environmental Services study of tear gas residue in downtown storm drains suggests elevated levels of heavy metals never reached the Willamette River.

PMG FILE PHOTO - A protester wades through deployed tear gas during a downtown Portland demonstration in July. Portland has slapped a second fine on the federal fence surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse.

The city's Bureau of Environmental Services announced a $20,000 enforcement action against the U.S. General Services Administration on Sept. 10, and says it will seek another $20,000 each day if the fence still stands beginning Monday, Sept. 14.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has levied a $500 penalty every 15 minutes on the iron barricade since July 28, saying it illegally blocks a bike lane on Southwest Third Avenue.

PBOT confirmed to Pamplin Media Group that the fee is still active, and recently topped $2.3 million.

"We have not received any money at this time," said bureau spokeswoman Hannah Schafer.

The General Services Administration — essentially a one-stop procurement shop whose customers are the myriad agencies of the federal government — says it never responded to PBOT's fines because the fence was set up by the Department of Homeland Security.

Though the nightly cloud of tear gas has long since dissipated — replaced with the choking smoke from wildfires — Environmental Services continues to seek access to a storm drain blocked by the fence.

BES scoured city storm drains on Aug. 6 for tear gas residue, and the resulting study found "higher concentrations of metals and analytes not commonly found in stormwater" at a grate on the west corner of Southwest Third Avenue and Salmon Street, where BES believes use of riot control agents peaked.

Six heavy metals were detected in the sediment samples, but only three of 66 possible semi-volatile organic compounds were detected.

"Many of the pollutants analyzed as part of this effort are commonly found in stormwater," the 21-page report notes. "These higher concentrations may suggest that some residuals from the (riot control agent) products used in the downtown area entered the city's storm system." COURTESY: BUREAU OF ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES - A map created by the Bureau of Environmental Services shows where deployment of riot control agents, including tear gas, was used in downtown Portland.

Read the report here.

BES did not find elevated levels of heavy metals or other contaminants at the other end of the pipe, however, suggesting they never reached the Willamette River. The bureau says the feds have begun properly preventing runoff while power-washing the graffiti-stained edifice.

It's been weeks since black-clad protesters regularly laid siege to the courthouse, though elevated staffing levels remain and the feds have emerged during rallies outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Southwest Portland.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, who controls BES, banned the Portland Police Bureau's use of tear gas on Sept. 10 as well, though deployment of pepper spray and mace is still permissible.

"It's good news tear gas and pepper spray residues were at normal levels where Portland's storm drains reach the Willamette River," Wheeler said. "That said, the risk tear gas and pepper spray create for our health, our environment and our ability to focus on ending systemic racism are too great."


Zane Sparling
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