The first thing to remember about exposure to these chemical weapons is that it is not the worst thing that could happen to you. The hype and fear surrounding them is enormous, but in reality, if you are careful and smart, you should survive it with little problem.
The second thing to remember is that the pain is only temporary, and we are extremely strong.
The third thing to remember about exposure to these chemical weapons is that there are many myths about treatment and prevention. Much of this misinformation is potentially dangerous. Some of it, if applied, could greatly increase or prolong a person's reaction to exposure, or at the very least provide a false sense of security.
Tear gas (also called CS, CN, or CX) and pepper spray (OC) are chemical compounds that are weapons designed to be used by the military and police to disperse crowds and subdue individuals. These compounds irritate the mucous membranes (the inside of your mouth and nose, among other places, are lined with mucus membrane) and skin. They are mixed with solvents, and delivered through the use of propellants. Some people think the compounds, solvents, or propellants can cause cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations.
In 1999 protests in Seattle, one batch of tear gas contained methylene chloride, a highly toxic solvent which can cause mental confusion, headache, tingling of the limbs, rapid heartbeat, visual and auditory hallucinations, menstruation cycle disruption, spontaneous abortion, and varying effects on lungs and the digestive system.
Tear gas and pepper spray can be sprayed from small hand-held dispensers or large fire-extinguisher size tanks. Tear gas is most commonly deployed via canisters, which are fired into crowds, sometimes directly at people. Don't pick up the canisters without gloves as they are extremely hot. Be aware that the time it takes you to throw it will allow you to be heavily exposed.
Pepper spray (capsicum) can also be deployed by "paintball" guns -- often called "pepperballs". These are plastic spheres filled with concentrated pepper spray and combined with a bright dye; the theory behind these weapons is to both disable a target and mark em for later arrest.
During the 2007 SPP protests in Montebello, Quebec, the Sûreté du Québec was seen to fire a pepper-spray foam considerable distances into the crowd (perhaps 10-15 metres), using a weapon very similar to a residential-grade power washer.
Both tear gas and pepper spray are skin irritants, causing burning pain and excess drainage from eyes, nose, mouth and breathing passages. Pepper spray is more popular with authorities as an agent of control because of its immediate pain-causing qualities. It is harder to remove from the skin and has the capacity to cause first degree burns.
If you are exposed to either tear gas or pepper spray, you may experience:
The good news is that the effects are temporary for most people. Discomfort from tear gas usually disappears after 5-30 minutes, while the worst pepper spray discomfort may take 20 minutes to 2 hours to subside. The effects of both diminish sooner with treatment. Because pepper spray penetrates to the nerve endings, its effects may last for hours after removal from the skin.
However, both teargas and pepper spray are toxic chemicals with ample documentation that they may cause secondary health problems beyond the initial coughing and irritation. Like cigarette smoke, many people become somewhat tolerant of tear gas and inhale more of the toxic properties without protection – falsely believing if they are not coughing, they are not getting harmed. In the 2000 Quebec City FTAA protests where several thousand rounds of tear gas were launched, medics later documented that one quarter of all people exposed had further health problems - primarily respiratory illnesses and menstrual irregularities - regardless of their level of exposure.
The European Parliament STOA science committee documents some of the health hazards of tear gas and pepper spray exposure - some of it very serious and chronic. It should be noted that the Biological and Chemical Weapons Convention signed by almost all countries bans the use of tear gas and pepper spray in war. Increasingly, police forces have ended the practice of exposing their members with the chemicals during trainings because of the ongoing health effects.
Who should avoid exposure? Edit
Everyone without adequate protection. Anyone inside a closed room without adequate ventilation - intensifying the level and duration of the chemical exposure. For most healthy people, the effects of tear gas and pepper spray are temporary. However, for some people the effects can be long-lasting and life-threatening. People with the conditions listed below should be aware of these risks and may want to try to avoid exposure. Please be aware that in intense actions, police behavior can be unpredictable, and avoidance is not always possible.
We have been doing trials with pepper spray to find good remedies. There are some definite things that you can do after being sprayed to help minimize the discomfort. None of these are miracle cures: using these remedies will help people to feel better faster, but it will still take time.
Remedy for the eyes, nose, and mouth: L.A.W. (liquid antacid and water) Milk is useful to lavage the eyes.
Secondary treatments can include: walking around with your arms outstretched, removing contaminated clothing, and taking a cool shower.
In fact, it is essential to shower and wash or discard your clothes as soon as you are able. Pepper spray is toxic, and will continually contaminate you and everyone around you until you get rid of it. Until then, try not to touch your eyes or your face, or other people, furniture, carpets etc. to avoid further contamination. Shower using the coldest water you can stand (to keep your pores from opening). Wash your clothes using strong detergents.