The following excerpt in bold is from “UN Report Outlines Dangers in Tear Gas, Defoliant Use” (12-22-1969, Medical tribune Report) and can be found in full here.
Permanent Injury From Tear Gases
The two most commonly used tear gases, CN (chloroacetophenone) and the more powerful CS (o-chlorobenzalmalo-nonitrile), the report warned, can inflict permanent injury. If gases could be delivered at precisely the right dosage, worked out in the laboratory, they would severely but only temporarily irritate the conjunctiva of the eyes and the inner surfaces of the upper respiratory tract, the WHO experts agreed, but they added the warning: “If enough of a sensory irritant is inhaled, it may produce the same sort of damage as that caused by a lethal lung irritant, such as phosgene.”
This article on the Physicians for Human Rights blog provides a good example of why it’s important to acknowledge the dangerous effects of tear gas, and what governments are doing to cover it up. 34 deaths in Bahrain alone in the past year, and that’s just the confirmed deaths from tear gas. Please read: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/tear-gas-or-lethal-gas.html
Since posting my story of why I got involved in the fight against governments using chemical weapons on citizens, I have received some surprisingly negative comments. One person questioned why I as a pregnant woman would travel across the world (when we all know that pregnant women should be barricaded in their houses where it’s safe at all times). Not that it’s relevant, but the answer is I didn’t know. That’s the beauty of false negative tests. The other point was that “miscarriages just happen.” Yet in the US, there are currently politicians seeking to make women prove that they didn’t cause their miscarriages while failing to punish corporations that knowingly produce chemicals or other hazards harmful to pregnant women’s health. Another responder seemed to think knowing a scientist makes him a genius. (I have family that works in Los Alamos, too, but I still do my own research.) Here’s an excerpt from Texas Tech University Health Science Center’s website regarding research on the subject I am doing my best to shine a light on: “there are no adequate and well-controlled studies done in humans. Thus, we have no way of knowing for sure what the hidden effects of CS tear gas during pregnancy may be. Caution is advised until further information is obtained. There has been report of increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirths due to direct exposure of CS gas during pregnancy in the war-torn Middle East; it is uncertain if these risks were caused directly by CS gas exposure or by other confounding variables in that particular area of turmoil.” Part of this project is to consolidate the lesser known information on tear gas into one website.
If you think I’m a crackpot for trying to protect others, so be it. But I think it’s more insane that we are okay with the military industrial complex threatening innocent civilians instead of protecting them. I think if you read up on crowd control techniques, you’d find this gem:
“‘Our problem is that an indiscriminate technology — a so-called less-lethal device like tear gas — will affect not only the up to 5 percent of the crowd who are the violent offenders, but will also affect the bystanders, the vast majority of people who had nothing to do with the conflict in the first place,’ said Mr. Rosenfeld, who chairs the Densus Group consulting firm of Plano, Texas. Many cities in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and continental Europe no longer use tear gas in protests, he said. Their police now employ an alternative philosophy that says ‘you make people responsible for their actions. So the trick is to identify those with violent intent, go and arrest and prosecute and convict those individuals, and facilitate protests by everyone else.'”
So if you’re too lazy, cynical, or apathetic to try to fix the system, don’t bother reading what I write. Won’t bother me a bit. And if you know there’s a problem and you’re not even trying to be part of the solution, then that’s on your conscience, not mine.
I grew up thinking tear gas was non-lethal. My army father told me about troops being sent into a room in basic training, dressed in full gear, and after the door was shut, just sitting and waiting as tear gas was pumped into the enclosure. After the room was filled, they were instructed to take off their gas masks so that they would learn not to panic. A classmate in my undergrad classes told me what it was like to be tear gassed as a child in South Korea — this came up because many of my classmates had attended the WTO riots and came back with smoke filled portraits of the chaos. She said it’s important to let your eyes tear up and not try to wipe them, and don’t sniffle because you’re just trapping the toxins in instead of letting them out.
When I was exposed to tear gas, I wasn’t protesting, and I wasn’t in the military. I was walking through a parking lot on a Wednesday night with a group of students I was co-chaperoning for work, on the way to a soccer match. I was happy: I was in Athens, and I had just seen my baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound less than a week before, strong though tiny. As we neared the stadium, we started to notice something like the smell of burning rubber, or maybe someone was smoking something. It was seconds between the time my boss said, “I think it’s tear gas,” and we rounded the corner to see a line of police in full riot gear, faces covered, and our eyes and throats began burning. Students began coughing and sputtering, and I just repeated the advice I heard. I stayed calm. Instead of physically separating the AEK inspired scuffles that broke out through the night, police would continue to release multiple canisters of tear gas.
When I got home, my clothes reeked of the gas. I called my fiancé and told him what happened. We started trying to get in touch with all the medical professionals we knew. Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center connected us to US Poison Control: the answer was that if I wasn’t right on top of a canister I was probably ok. I called my Greek doctor in the morning, and he said I was probably ok. We went on a class field trip over the weekend. On the way back, my boss noted he was surprised to see me actually eating food (my morning sickness had kept me from eating much up to that point). The next day, I began experiencing intense cramping. I went to work briefly the day after (a Monday) and was put on bed rest and medicine to control bleeding until my doctor could see me on Thursday. There was no heartbeat on the ultrasound. I called my fiancé and begged/ ordered him to get on a plane in time for the follow up ultrasound a week later. I was still on medicine and bed rest, meaning until he came out, I didn’t have an assured means of even getting groceries. The second ultrasound confirmed the worst, and after a physically and emotionally painful weekend, I had surgery and decided to return to the States.
Why am I writing this? It’s humiliating, depressing to talk about it. In part, I write this for solace of and as a resource for others who have experienced the same. Over a year later, I still think about it. I admit that even after the birth of my daughter, I still cry for the loss of my first pregnancy. They say tear gas is a temporary irritant, but that has not been my experience. Some may even state that because I was in Greece I should have expected this, but Americans need to pay attention. Greece, like many other nations, is supplied with their military weapons by the US (since the end of WWII). Tear gas is an American export: an American company profited off the loss of my pregnancy and countless injuries to others. So then I also admit I write out of anger: anger at the thought that other women have gone through this, and I’ll be damned if I allow my daughter’s generation to be harmed by her government’s practices in the same way I was. The American government has the responsibility of protecting its citizens from irresponsible corporate practices and the use of unnecessary force.
The sad fact is that activists and soldiers alike almost claim it as a badge of honor, “Yeah, I’ve been tear gassed.” If you’re a healthy young male, you probably won’t notice any long lasting effects- maybe more of a desire to protect yourself against it next time, or maybe you build up a tolerance to it. But tear gas does not only target healthy young males. When it is deployed, it hits whoever is in the area. The elderly, young children, and pregnant women are just as likely targets for an uncontrollable chemical weapon. Due to the nature of laboratory studies, it is not ethical to test the effects of tear gas on humans or human pregnancy, yet governments have no qualms about actually using the substance on pregnant women. Articles have been published on the rise in miscarriages due to tear gas exposure (see “Relevant Articles” at http://www.banteargasnow.com), but many medical professionals are still citing the lack of “laboratory testing” to prove a link. We see tear gas’s brutal effects in the real world, but it doesn’t count because the dispenser of the tear gas wasn’t taking notes or wearing a lab coat.
This is my plea to you: write your local representatives, your federal government officials, and your police departments. Send them articles and information about the dangers of tear gas. (I will do my best to continue making material available through this website. If you have resources you would like to add, please email email@example.com.) Tell the “authorities” you will not stand for the deployment of chemical weapons on citizens.
In the meantime: When you protest, do so non-violently – for the safety of those who are not as strong, do not give the police justification for dispensing this “crowd control method”. If you are exposed, seek medical attention and help others do the same.
Do not just brush it off as a temporary nuisance. Tear gas is a Chemical Weapon. Any nation that uses chemical weapons on its own citizenry is not free, and any country that exports it for the abuse of other countries’ citizens is not just.
Tear gas is the term used to label a group of chemical weapons meant to incapacitate (temporarily) a population for the goal of crowd control. There is no way to safely deploy a chemical weapon on a population, and there is no way to target it to hit only criminal elements, even when there is a hint of justification for an authority to use it. Children, the elderly, or those with medical conditions such as pregnancy or asthma are particularly prone to its effects. While it is unethical to test the effects of tear gas in laboratory subjects on human pregnancy, there have been increasing numbers of self-reports by women who attribute their miscarriages to exposure to tear gas. It is my goal to collect and provide these reports to you, along with other news and scholarly research so that this danger can be recognized for what it truly is. Use the information, don’t just read it. Write your local authorities, your government, the makers and distributors of this weapon, your friends: tell them why tear gas needs to be outlawed once and for all.
If you want to contribute articles, research, or artwork, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
The makers of the tear gas used against the Egyptian protesters, Greeks, and who knows who else:
Combined Systems, Inc.
388 Kinsman Rd
Jamestown, PA 16134
Feel free to contact them and tell them what you think of the “services” they provide the world.
As this site evolves, I will add more resources for anyone exposed to tear gas. If you have been exposed, seek medical attention immediately. It is not a harmless irritant as those who deploy it would have you believe and those with prior medical conditions such as pregnancy or asthma are especially at risk. There is no way to deploy a “safe” dosage of this substance on a crowd!!