How tear gas works, how to stay safe, and how to put canisters out
If you are caught up in a protest or public disturbance that involves tear gas, it is crucial to know how to protect yourself from tear gas. Tear gas can cause serious health problems and even death in some cases. In this blog post, we will discuss the dangers of tear gas and how to protect yourself from it. Stay safe out there!
What is tear gas, and how does it affect you??
Agent CS’s most typical form of tear gas consists of a crystalline powder that is converted into a fine mist and propelled from a grenade by a small pyrotechnic explosion. Pepper spray is a highly concentrated form of chili powder.
Though tear gas was officially classified as a chemical weapon by the United Nations in 1993 and banned from international warfare, U.S. law enforcement officers are still legally allowed to use it on citizens. Some cities are starting to ban the chemical pepper spray used by police.
When a tear gas grenade explodes, CS powder sprouts into the air and sticks to anything that has moisture on it, including your tears, the sweat on your body, the grease in your hairs, and the saliva and phlegm covering your mouth and airways
Symptoms of tear gas exposure can include the following, according to the CDC:
- Eyes: Excessive tearing, redness, burning, blurred vision
- Skin: Burns and rash
- Mouth: Burning, irritation, drooling, trouble swallowing
- Nose: Running, burning, and swelling
- Lungs: Chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, choking sensation
How does tear gas work?
Riot control agents such as tear gas are delivered by either a spray can or a grenade launcher fired from a baton. The canisters are dangerous because they usually generate heat and cause nasty burns if handled. If they are shot at close range, they may cause serious injury to a person s body and even death.
When chemicals used in riot control agents react with moisture, they cause a burning sensation; therefore, the eyes, skin, and lungs are highly susceptible to damage. Oil-based products, including cosmetics, sunscreen, and makeup, can absorb tear gas. So, avoid using them if you’re protesting where tear gas may be used.
If you’re suffering from any respiratory conditions, including asthma, you might want to think about the potentially dangerous effects tear gas could have on your condition.
The effects usually wear out within an hour, but the feeling of burning and highly irritated skin may last for hours.
How to protect yourself from tear gas
A gas mask is the best way to protect yourself from toxic chemicals. They’re not cheap, but they will allow you to cover your eyes, nose, and mouth safely. They may be subject to export licenses in certain countries, so check with the relevant authorities before traveling.
A gas mask consists mainly of a rubber mask with filters attached to the sides. It is designed to fit the size and shape of the face, so you shouldn’t assume that yours will do anyone else. Ensure you have an extra air can or filters, as they need replacing after several hours (depending on the make and model and how long the mask has been used).
Make sure your gas mask is working correctly and is fitting properly. If you buy any masks online or in military surplus shops, check them by an expert to ensure they work correctly.
The next best thing to a gas mask is an Escape Hood, cheaper and isn’t subject to the same export restrictions.
What to wear to protect yourself against tear gas when protesting
- Facemask. Scarves or bandanas large enough to cover your face from nose to chin can serve as substitutes.
- Shatter-resistant eye protection (e.g., shatter-resistant sunglasses, safety goggles, or a gas mask)
- Clothing covering all your skin as much as possible; tie off your pant legs and armholes
- Comfortable, closed, protective shoes that you can run in
- AVOID wearing contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals, such as tear gas, underneath them. Keep a full facial gas mask or goggles on if you wear contact lenses.
- AVOID wearing makeup such as eyeliner, body creams, moisturizers, or anything containing a liquid, as that is where tear gas will be attracted to
What to do if you’re exposed to tear gas
- Get out of the cloud of tear gas and away from the area where the tear gas was used as soon as you can. Try to stay away from the ground, as most forms (or types) of tear gas are heavy. The closer you are to the floor, the higher the concentration.
- Don’t run, walk. Running may cause you to breathe harder, filling your lungs with even more tear gas. Keep your breathing steady.
- If your eyes have become red and painful, flush them with water. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Flush using water from your water bottle. If you can find a public drinking fountain or sink to wash your eyes, use it for 10 to 15 minutes to flush them out.
- If possible, and if you aren’t affected yourself, help others move to a clean and ventilated area.
- Don’t try to remove the tear gas canisters, as doing that could put you at greater risk of harm and injury.
How to further get rid of tear gas
Change your clothes as quickly as possible. Wash yourself off as soon as you arrive at a place with a shower. Put your shoes outside your house to keep them from bringing any dust inside.
Hang all the clothes you were previously wearing in an open, ventilated area for at least 48 hours before washing them. If you cannot keep them in an airtight container, store them in a sealed bag for two weeks before washing.
Myths and misconceptions about tear gas protection
Hong Kong protesters carry a baking soda and water mixture (3 teaspoons of powder for every eight and a half ounces of liquid) to neutralize the effects of tear gas particles.
And Chilean protesters used lemon wedges they sucked on to clear their throats.
While these methods might help a little bit, there are myths regarding tear gas protection.
1. Soak a bandana or cloth with apple cider vinegar and tightly cover your mouth.
Vinegar doesn’t provide enough if any at all, protection against tear gas.
2. Smearing lime or lemony sour cream on the inside of a clean cloth and tightly cover your face with it
This is supposed to work on the same principle as apple cider vinegar, but the amount is so tiny as to have a negligible effect.
3. Soaking a scarf in water and tightly covering it over your mouth
Many RCAs come as crystals, which react with moisture. Using small amounts of liquid (such as a wet cloth) immediately after exposure to tear gas is likely to reactivate these crystals and prolong their effects.
3. Smashing charcoal into a fine powder, lining a wet bandanna with the dust, and then tightly covering your nose and face with it
The charcoal supposedly filters out CS gas, but there is no evidence to support this.
The only sure way of protection is with a gas mask.
How to put out tear gas canisters
So far, these suggestions will help you and your allies to move to a safer place safely and hopefully get back home to your family. But if a gas cylinder lands next to you and you don’t know how to extinguish it, you might want to know how to do so before releasing too much of its sinister cargo.
It’s essential to be aware that doing so is riskier than retreating since it brings you closer to the gas cloud and the little fire that helps it disperse.
Videos of protesters in Ecuador and Chile using various creative methods to put up posters went viral on social media and were replicated by protesters across several countries. Since CS gas is expelled from its cylinder by a pyrotechnical explosion, extinguishing the fire inside is enough for it to stop.
There are mainly two reasonably safe ways to do this.
The traffic cone method
The principle is simple. Cover a container with a traffic cone to prevent the spread of the gas. Pour water into the container through the opening at the top. Put the fire out by pouring water into the container.
This creative method stops tear gas from releasing almost immediately. However, it’s not very efficient when using water since you cannot correctly aim at the container inside the cone. You’ll need a large amount of water, probably in short supply
The water bottle technique
Proceed with extreme caution. This method is much riskier than just using a regular tear gas canister or hand grenade. There are reports of some people who experience second-degree burns when coming in direct contact.
But the Hong Kong protestors figured it out:
They used thick, heat-proof leather gloves to pick up the canisters, put them inside metal bottles, and shook them vigorously until the fire in the bottle was completely extinguished.
For this method, however, protection is vital:
Exposure to high concentrations of CS powder makes it necessary to have both your eyes and airways covered with a gas mask. Wear appropriate; heat-resistant gloves are a must to avoid burning yourself.
Remember that tear gas is no joke. The best way to protect yourself is by having a plan and being prepared. Familiarize yourself with the tear gas symptoms and first aid treatments, know how to put out tear gas, and have the proper gear on hand. And if you are protesting, make sure it is for a cause you truly believe in.