Soldiers at Fort Lewis ignited smoke and tear gas grenades rather than put them away, releasing a cloud of gas that sickened about 100 people in nearby Spanaway last month, an Army investigation has found.
The Sept. 24 discharge occurred at the end of a night training exercise involving about 100 troops from the 66th Military Police Company.
On Wednesday, the Army called the incident a “knowing” violation of safety regulations.
“The improper discharge of the pyrotechnics smoke and tear gas which took place was not in accordance with the established guidelines of Fort Lewis regulations and policies,” said Lt. Col. Gary Hovatter, a post spokesman.
Fort Lewis has specific rules prohibiting use of such materials if they pose a threat to housing areas on or off the post. Another regulation prohibits destruction or discharge of such materials unless that is part of a specific training event.
The investigation found that the soldiers had ignited the smoke and tear gas grenades to use them up rather than return them to storage, Hovatter said.
Members of the unit face possible disciplinary or administrative sanctions in coming weeks, he said.
A statement released by I Corps said, “Our policies and procedures are under continuing review but, if followed, appear to have been adequate to have precluded this incident.”
The investigation by I Corps headquarters found that soldiers ignited two smoke generators, 24 smoke grenades and 34 tear gas grenades containing CS gas within Training Area 8, less than 1 miles from the northern boundary of Fort Lewis near the ParklandSpanaway communities.
The incident forced the evacuation of 66 people from a Spanaway Lake neighborhood and the closure of five schools.
It has strained military-civilian relations near the Pierce County post.
In the four weeks since the incident, 20 civilians have filed damage claims. Another 79 have requested claim forms.
CS gas causes a variety of symptoms, including irritation of the eyes and throat, dizziness, difficult breathing, headaches and nausea.