Tear gas is often used by law enforcement to control crowds, disperse riots and subdue individuals.
It is launched in the form of grenades or aerosol cans so that the liquid becomes an aerosol. They are effective in that they irritate mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs, and cause tearing, sneezing, coughing, etc.
Tear gas is not actually a “gas” at all. They’re powders that billow into the air as a fine mist. Although rarely lethal, deaths have occurred in cases where tear gas has been used improperly. Given the risk of injury or damage, there are almost no scenarios where the use of tear gas makes sense for controlling crowds.
If anything, the use of tear gas causes extra panic, disorder and chaos. Stampeding crowds have a greater risk of causing death by suffocation or trampling.
Symptoms of Tear Gas Exposure
- Stinging and burning of the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin
- Excessive tearing
- Blurred vision
- Runny nose
- Salivation (drooling)
- Exposed tissue may develop a rash and a chemical burn
- Coughing and difficulty breathing, including a feeling of choking
- Disorientation and confusion, which may lead to panic
- Intense anger
Tear Gas Protection
The most obvious form of protection against tear gas would be a gas mask although these can be pretty expensive as the only ones that are worth using, would be current military or police designs, don’t go for the older versions often seen in military surplus stores. The thing to remember about gas masks is that they look pretty intimidating and can make you a target of police violence
A normal cloth mask will give very limited protection. If nothing else, a special cycle mask can be used as they contain activated charcoal which will filter out some of the CS.
Tight fitting goggles are useful for eye protection and are easy to get hold of and carry. Swimming goggles are great as they have a tight seal.
A bandana that has been soaked in vinegar and tied tightly around the nose and mouth can be used as a last resort but this will only be a barrier and not a filter.
What to do if Exposed to Tear Gas
If you breathe in the CS it is going to hurt and it will start doing so almost immediately. You need to try and hold your breath and close your eyes if at all possible. Whatever you do, do not take a big breath first.
The first few seconds after the canister has been set off is vital. You need to get out of the area before the cloud of CS spreads. Try to get to high ground as most tear gas clouds are heavier than air, so the highest concentrations tend to sit nearer to the ground. Now would be the time if you haven’t already done so, to put on your protective equipment described in the last section.
If you wear contact lenses or glasses, you will need to remove them immediately as they will be covered in tiny CS particles which can damage the eyes. You glasses should be washed thoroughly with soap and water so you can still see out of them without risking spreading more tear gas into your eyes. When using water, it can make the situation worse as it spreads the CS particles so if you need to rinse your eyes you will need to use plenty of water.
CS particles are going to get trapped in your clothing as well. You can carefully pat down your clothes, keeping the wind direction and your face in mind. You can also walk with your arms spread and allow the wind to do its work.
Washing your hands is probably one of the most important steps that you can take. Doing so will reduce the chance of recontaminating your eyes and face. Only use cold water for doing this as hot or warm water will open up the skin pores, allowing more chemicals to sink through your skin.
Whatever you do, never do the following:
- Do not pick up an unexploded tear gas canister, since it could explode and cause injury.
- Do not make physical contact with your hands on others as they will be full of tear gas.
- Don’t remove your clothes as you are giving a wider area to be affected by the tear gas, and it will hurt.
- Do not try and catch the canister, as the canister is very hot and should not be handled without protective gloves.