Tear Gas (CS, CN, CX) and Pepper Spray (OC)

Two different U.S. made tear gas (CS) canisters used against protesters in Victoriaville.

Generally, the Montreal police do not use tear gas in the crowded downtown because the gas cloud will affect everyone in the area. Tear Gas is loved by the Provincial SQ cops.
 Pepper Spray and various 'kinetic' weapons like batons, plastic bullets, rubber bullets, pepper spray balls, etc. are used against individuals or small groups.

Both tear gas and pepper spray come in various concentrations or strengths from mild to very strong. These chemicals are also toxic to the the police who use them. (If any of you police are reading this), while we have no love for the riot police, they are generally kept ignorant by their command structure, and should read the toxic effects of these weapons noted below.

Who should avoid?

Some people have long-lasting or life-threatening problems after chemical exposure. People with the health issues listed: be watchful; try to avoid tear gas and pepper spray. Both chemicals are toxic.
  • Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
  • Nursing mothers risk passing chemicals on to their infant.
  • Respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema.
  • Cardiac diseases.
  • Chronic health conditions or taking medications that weaken the immune system.
  • Skin and eye conditions.
  • Anyone in a closed room.
Beware of physical barriers to breathing — people died from pepper spray who were tied and placed face-down.

Prevent contamination: 
See our sections on dress and masks.

Practice first aid treatments before the action on each other so:
o        You get experienced before you need to do treatments during an intense situation.
o        You know what the treatment feels like.

·        Stay calm & focused. Calm others who may be panicking.
·        When your body heats up (from running or panicking, for example), the irritation may increase. Part of the reason is that your pores will open allowing more absorption of the chemicals.
·        Make your way to a safe space with fresh air where unexposed folks can help you, or at least ensure your safety while you treat yourself.
·        Face wind, open eyes, hold arms out and walk around to let fresh air decontaminate you. Take slow deep breaths of clean air.
·        Don't touch your eyes or your face, as you may re-contaminate yourself.
·        Blow your nose, spit out chemicals. With tear gas, this might often be enough treatment 
Before you assist or treat anyone, ask them for permission first! 
Then explain to them what you are going to do before you do it.

·        Wear clean gloves (mutual protection from contamination) and eye protection!
·        Use a plastic bag or sheet to keep spilled cleaning solutions and water from soaking the treated person's clothes.
·        Store contaminated wipes in a bag.

·        Decontaminate with a shower rinse (cool water keeps pores closed preventing chemicals from entering skin). Use non-detergent soap. Be careful not to get chemicals from your hair onto your face
·        Exchange contaminated clothing for fresh.

·        Be aware that entering a bus or a room with contaminated cloths, hair & skin reeking of chemicals will contaminate the space.

·        A contaminated room with tear gas powder residue in carpets or textiles on furniture may reek for weeks.Vacuum the white powder.
·        If possible, please change out of contaminated garments before entering enclosed spaces such as convergence and treatment areas.
·        Place contaminated clothes in plastic bag.


Tear Gas (CS, CN, CX) Treatment

·        Fresh Air. Open eyes and spread out arms towards wind.
·        Consider rinsing off chemicals, eyes with water and/or Liquid-Antacide-Water described below. Change into fresh clothes.
·        See General Treatment sections for additional details.

This well covered protester probably will NOT need any treatment
from the pepper spray! Photo by Darren Ell


A. Eye Flush with Water (used mostly for pepper spray)


Get permission to treat first. 

Then explain what you are going to do.

Ask, "Are you wearing contact lenses?"

·        If yes, ask the person if they can remove them. If not, you can still do the eye-flush, but gentler. 

video: Pepper spray EYE FLUSH

·        Have the victim kneel on the ground, and tilt their head back and slightly to one side. If they are not wearing water resistant clothing and the air temperature is cool, you may need to cover the victim with a raincoat, poncho or plastic bag - they are about to get rather wet.
·        Stand in front of the patient. With a squirt-top style drinking bottle in one hand, use the thumb of your other hand to carefully but surely pry the upper eyelid of one of the victim's eyes open, at least a slight amount (this is the eye toward which their head is tilted).
·        With the tip of the water bottle near the nose and a few inches from the eye to be treated, quickly squirt a strong stream of water into the eye: direction nose->to->ear. It is important to squeeze hard on the bottle.

If NO CONTACT LENS: Squeeze a solid water stream. The idea is to flush the contaminants out.
If CONTACT LENS STILL IN: Gentle water wash. The idea is to rinse the eye, while avoiding dislodging the contact lens into the corner of the eye.

B. Liquid Antacid Water solution - LAW aka "maalox"

This is a safe  and soothing solution against the pepper spray burn to eyes, mouth, mucus membranes and skin. Best used after initial pepper spray is removed with absorbent wipes and eye flush.
Ingredients: Water; Liquid Antacid (Mylanta or generic equivalent with main active ingredients of usually 200 mg magnesium and 225 mg aluminum hydroxides per serving). Unflavored is recommended, but hard to find. We use mint flavor often. Maalox brand does not seem to be available anymore.
WARNING: Read the ingredients carefully first before buying or using. DO NOT USE any liquid antacids containing potassium (i.e. in milk of magnesia) - that might sting eyes for hours.

Solution: Mix equal amount of Liquid Antacid and Water into a spray bottle, or with a drip or squirt top.
First shake bottle
·        Eyes: Spay into open eyes if possible. If not, ask person to blink. Or Drip a few drops  into each open eye.
·        Mouth: Swish LAW in mouth and spit out.
·        Skin: Spray or wipe on skin. It will leave a white cake-like layer.
Caution: After applying to eyes, vision will be cloudy for up to several minutes depending on how well tear ducts are working. Patient may not be able to safely move quickly.


Effects of these chemical weapons:

  • Discomfort from Tear Gas and Pepper Spray is usually temporary and we are extremely strong.
  • However, 25% of people exposed have longer term effects (see below).
  • They are toxic chemicals.
  • 25% women reported irregular periods after the being exposed to tear gas in Quebec City's FTA fiasco (see below).
  • The effects are pretty similar for both tear gas and pepper spray.
  • Both forms of chemical warfare have their most powerful effect on the eyes, nose, mouth and breathing passages.
  • Tear gas effects usually last less than a few minutes for a low to moderate dose as long as you are out of the tear gas area.
  • Eyes will tear, causing your vision to blur. Eyelids may blink or even spasm shut with pepper spray.
  • Nose may run.
  • Regular breathing will become difficult. You are likely to cough.
  • Skin can have a burning sensation. Especially if you have sensitive or fair skin, make sure you skin is not chemically burned by a heavy dose.
  • Even if you don't feel affected by the chemicals the longer you stay in the gas cloud, the sicker you could get in the long run.
  • Pepper spray is often sprayed by police deliberately in your face from inches to a few feet away, so you would feel much more intense effects. They should disappear however. (The police too!)
  • Widespread use of either of these agents may result in a generalized panic to the inexperienced. People begin to run in various directions, and sometimes injuries result from collisions between partially blinded protesters or passers by.
  • The first effect may be fear to the uninitiated. Don't worry and don't panic. You will survive. People once gassed often get used to dealing with it (like cigarettes, but it is still toxic though).
  • The severity of the effects depend on: the strength of the chemicals, how heavily you were dosed, the amount of ventilation to disperse the gas or particles, your response to discomfort, barriers you are using, your respiratory reaction to pollutants, your health and immune system, and the treatments used.
  • Tear Gas effects can last up to 45 minutes, Pepper Spray effects from a few minutes to up to several hours. You can then return to the action, assuming you take care of yourself in the meantime.
  • In an enclosed space with no ventilation, the chemical does not disperse and you have about a minute before your body starts to react more severely.
  • Being outside will obviously help.
  • Both are skin irritants.
  • CS Tear Gas creates acid molecules on the skin.
  • The more moisture our body has on it, the faster the acid is created and tissues are damaged, causing pain. Also, cool skin has closed pores - less chemicals enter the skin. Warm skin from heat, the sun or a warm water wash - will open pores allowing more chemicals in causing additional discomfort.
  • Pepper Spray made from chili peppers, causes pain by stimulating chemical receptors in the skin, causing the release of a pain-causing chemical called "Substance P".
  • Treat red skin that looks like a sunburn, as if it is a first degree sunburn.
  • Disorientation and confusion is possible (so get calm and collected).
  • Anger from Pepper Spray is common, and can be useful if you are prepared and able to focus it.
  • Maybe you can use your anger to motivate you to recover faster and get back in the action again. Maybe it will provide you with just enough energy to get out to a safe space.

Toxic effects of Tear Gas and Pepper Spray:

Tear gas and pepper spray are toxic chemical weapons banned from warfare by the Biological and Chemical Weapons Convention. However, a clause allows them to be used against the real threat to most states - their domestic population.

While pepper spray invariably contains an extract of hot peppers (technical name: oleoresin capsicum), it is actually a mixture of petrochemicals, including: anti-freeze (propylene glycol), benzyl alcohol, and a variety of other chemicals, and with next to no toxicological data available to confirm or refute their safety. These "carriers" as they are called, are likely one reason why permanent eye damage from being sprayed is not a rare event. A May 2000 study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine showed that 7% of those who are sprayed have "sustained corneal abrasions."
(Source: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/pepper-spray-potentially-lethal-chemical-weapon)

A large health survey of residents and protesters we did in Quebec City, Quebec after the 2000 FTA Summit protest when police fired 5,000 canisters of tear gas! showed that 25% of people exposed (including residents who were not in the protests) had illnesses - mostly flu symptoms and fatigue.

Most worrisome, 25% of all women who were of menstrual age, had menstrual irregularities afterwards. We assume tear gas is a hormonal disruptor. The tear gas used had no solvents, just regular pure tear gas. Some tear gas has methylene chloride solvent used as a dispersal propellant, and solvents can cause a host of medical illnesses.

Tear Gas is not actually a gas, but heated particles that blow around and can be inhaled, or just land on your skin. When cool, the toxic particles fall to the ground in a white powder, or contaminate rugs, furniture, etc. inside stores and homes exposed to the tear gas cloud. Used tear gas particles still make people cough years later.

Any respiratory and cardiac condition can be exacerbated by tear gas exposure. Tear gas can cause short term respiratory problems and illnesses by both its immediate effect on breathing passages, and its long term toxic effects. Sever pulmonary edema (where the lungs fill with fluid and the person essentially drowns or suffocates), is a rare, but known consequence of tear gas exposure. It has happened in Palestine with American made tear gas. Also in Palestine, protesters have been injured and killed by the force of tear gas canisters fired into them.

The long term toxic effects should be of concern to all: especially protesters, police and residents of the area. (Tear gas is like cigarettes, you choke and cough when first breathing it, but then you get used to it, inhale it more without choking, and can even breath easy inside a tear gas cloud. Like cigarettes, the more you are exposed to it, the more toxic chemicals you absorb). Like cigarettes, individuals react differently - certainly some are more susceptible than others.

The European Parliament STOA report on Crowd Control technologies available online: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2005/may/steve-wright-stoa-rep.pdf details health studies and research of illnesses and lethal effects of crowd control chemical weapons like tear gas and pepper spray. They can cause cardiac, respiratory and liver problems. They are also carcinogenic (can cause cancer), mutagenic (can cause mutations in the foetus), and teratogenic (can cause mutations in future offspring).

It is reasonable to assume that a significant number of the police and soldiers exposed to the chemical weapons they use against us will have future medical consequences that will make them regret obeying orders.

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