June 14, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

Police release cloud of chemicals used for crowd control in California. Dozens of nearby schoolchildren fall ill

3 min read

LOS ANGELES – Nearly 30 children and one adult became ill last week when a plume of tear gas and pepper spray used at a police training exercise in the area drifted to a nearby elementary school in San Bruno, California, according to authorities.

At the time of the incident, nearly 30 students at Portola Elementary School reported experiencing symptoms including coughing, watery eyes, wheezing and trouble breathing, according to Matthew Duffy, superintendent of the San Bruno Park School District. There were also news reports of vomiting and rashes.

“More than a week later, we still have some students who are suffering adverse effects from the exposure to the tear gas and pepper spray in the air that day,” Duffy said. “It is now well-documented that some families needed to get emergency medical assistance to support their children who were suffering from the effects of the gas in the air.”

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Office, which oversaw the crowd-control training exercise on May 21 and launched an investigation of the incident, has apologized to the students and their families as well as the faculty.

But Duffy said the district would be sending a “formal letter” to sheriff’s officials requesting a halt to all “gas-related” training at the facility, which is less than half a mile from the school.

Tara Moriarty, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said Bay Area law enforcement agencies had conducted training at the site for more than 20 years.

“This is an unprecedented situation that we take very seriously,” she said.

But parents became more distressed this week when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that some chemical canisters used during the training exercise dated as far back as the 1960s.

The San Francisco County Sheriff’s Office said a preliminary investigation into the incident revealed that the canisters that UC Berkeley Police Department brought and used for the training did not have expiration tabs.

“We believe, however, that these canisters had been pulled from storage,” Moriarty said.

She did not say how long the canisters had been in storage.

She said it’s common for law enforcement agencies to use stored products for training exercises and that there “appears to be no greater health risk than using the same product that has been recently manufactured.”

But experts say there have been few studies that look into the long-term health and environmental effects of tear gas exposure.

The two-hour multiagency training class for crowd control took place in an isolated area of the San Francisco County jail in San Bruno on May 21. It was shortly before 1 p.m. when the training exercise required that police officers deploy tear gas and pepper spray inside a training structure.

The cloud of tear gas and pepper spray did not stay within the structure, however, and drifted to the nearby elementary school.

Moriarty said following the incident the Sheriff’s Office paused all future training exercises as it reviews its current practices to make sure the community isn’t endangered.

The San Mateo County Environmental Health Services said in a statement that it was investigating the incident.

“While there are no indications of any lingering environmental hazards at the site or in the surrounding area,” the department wrote, “the investigation will determine if all reporting requirements to the appropriate agencies were followed subsequent to the incident and whether appropriate contingency plans were in place to mitigate any release.”

Since the incident occurred, Duffy said, the school district has washed down the outside areas of the school as a safety precaution. School officials also are continuing to gather information about the health of students and adults who were affected that day. The district also held a town hall meeting with Sheriff Paul Miyamoto to address community concerns.

“We will also be writing a formal letter to the S.F. sheriff’s department requesting the immediate end to all gas-related training at the facility,” Duffy noted. “We appreciate the time the S.F. sheriff’s department has dedicated to understanding the events of that day, and we look forward to a partnership that sheds light on any inappropriate actions taken as well as needed steps to remedy the situation.”

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