Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to Deal with Pepper Spray at Protests


Both tear gas (CS, CN, or CX) and pepper spray (OC) are skin irritants, causing burning pain and excess drainage from eyes, nose, mouth, and breathing passages. 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 fired into a crowd. If you are exposed to either, you may feel disoriented, panicky, and angry.

These effects are temporary. Discomfort from tear gas usually disappears after 5-30 minutes, while pepper spray discomfort takes 20 minutes to 2 hours to subside.

Who Should Avoid Exposure?

People with respiratory diseases, compromised immune systems, or severe skin or eye conditions, as well as elderly people, infants, and pregnant or nursing women, face greater risk. Be aware of positional asphyxia. Almost all pepper spray related deaths occur when the victim has been hogtied and placed face-down.


Avoid use of oils, petroleum jelly, and lotions because they can trap the chemicals and thereby prolong exposure. We recommend using a water- or alcohol-based sunscreen (rather than oil-based).

We also recommend minimizing skin exposure by covering up. A bandana soaked in apple cider vinegar (water if nothing else) and tied tightly around the nose and mouth provides limited protection.

During and After an Attack

Stay calm. Panicking increases the irritation. Breathe slowly and remember it is only temporary. If you get a warning, put on protective gear. If able and/or willing, try to move away or get upwind.

Afterwards, blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough, and spit. Try not to swallow. Do not rub it in. If you wear contacts, get someone with uncontaminated fingers to remove them for you.

For pepper spray in the eyes and mouth, we recommend an eye flush using a solution of half liquid antacid (i.e. Maalox) and half water. A bottle with a squirt cap is ideal, but a spray bottle works. Always irrigate from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside, with head tilted back and slightly towards the side being rinsed. It needs to get into the eye to help. This means that if the sprayed person says it's okay, you should try to open their eye for them. Opening will cause a temporary increase in pain, but it does help. This works great as a mouth rinse too, as long as the victim is alert and breathing normally. Spit it out after rinsing.

For pepper spray, we've tested a number of substances rumored to help which haven't, including: whole milk, bioshield, baby shampoo, bentonite clay, and rescue remedy. Three other substances which didn't work on pepper spray but are rumored to be helpful with tear gas: baking soda in water, vinegar and water, and lemon juice and water.

For pepper spray on the skin, we recommend a trained person apply mineral oil followed immediately by alcohol. Thoroughly wet a 4"x4" pad or similar material with mineral oil. Carefully avoiding the eyes, thoroughly rub the exposed skin with mineral oil. You can use any vegetable oil in a pinch. Quickly wet another 4x4 pad with rubbing alcohol, and vigorously rub off all the mineral oil. Be very careful to avoid the eyes.

Afterward, remove contaminated clothing (don't bring it indoors unless it's wrapped in a plastic bag), and wash them with strong detergents as soon as you are able. These sprays are toxic, and will continually contaminate you and everyone around you until you get rid of it.

Take a shower in the coldest water you can stand. Until then, try not to touch your eyes, face, other people, furniture, or carpets to avoid re-exposure and prevent exposing others to the fumes.

1 comment:

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