CS gas, tear gas (2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile) is one of the most commonly used tear gases in the world.
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After exposure: countermeasures and getting rid of the powder
If you search the internet, you’ll find a lot of possible remedies for the effects of tear gas, which have been used around the world during times of unrest. In 2014, protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, washed their faces with milk; in 2011, at demonstrations following the Arab Spring, Egyptian protesters soaked their bandanas in Coca-Cola; and last year, Palestinians used onions and vinegar to fight the effects of tear gas.
Hong Kong protesters carry around spray bottles with a baking soda and water solution (three teaspoons of powder for every 8.5 ounces of liquid), which they spray in their face and mouth to neutralize the effects of tear gas particles. Chilean protesters adopted this countermeasure and added it to their arsenal of traditional defenses against the chemical, which already included lemon wedges they suck on to clear their throats and airways.
Protesters swear by these techniques. But the only home-made countermeasure that may have some sort of scientific back-up (only one study so far), is the water and baking soda solution. According to the 2003 study, CS molecules are rather unstable and eventually break apart in a process called hydrolyzation. Basic, or less acidic pHs, such as baking soda, seem to accelerate the process, which would help stop the symptoms produced by tear gas.
"But there's really no evidence behind any of this, and I would be very careful about advising anything other than just lots of fresh air and a lot of water,” Haar says.
And this is one of the main problems regarding tear gas: we just don’t know a lot about it. Most of the safety data governments around the world use come from studies done between the 1950s and 1970s, which means reports still cite data that’s up to 50 years old or even older.
“There are no additional studies really using advanced, up-to-date toxicological techniques. That's very concerning. I'm not sure why this is. You don't get much answers,” Jordt says.
The latest public data available about tear gas dates back to 2014, when the U.S. Army published a study that found that lung injuries in their recruits were the direct result of long exposure to 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile.
Dayu Chemical produce the active component in tear gas—2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile
“These are weapons,” Haar says. “They're designed by weapons manufacturers, and so they continue to be updated or made stronger. But that research is not public—this is not approved by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], so there's very little oversight of what exactly the chemicals are.”
Once you have escaped the cloud of tear gas, the next step is to get yourself clean as soon as possible. Take off your shoes outside of your home to keep them from bringing any powder indoors. Also shed all the clothes you were wearing and hang them in an open, ventilated area for at least 48 hours before washing them. Do not mix them with uncontaminated garments—wash them on their own twice or more, if necessary. CS powder can be active as long as five days after being released, so you want to make sure your clothes are clean before wearing them again.
Then, take a cold shower for at least 20 minutes—this will prevent tear gas from irritating your skin any further. You might have to shower a couple of times before you stop smelling of tear gas, but the first one will definitely reduce pain and irritation to a minimum. After that, you’ll be able to head right back out to the demonstration.
“The solution is not to not protest. That’s our human right,” Haar says. “But really, the ultimate solution is that these weapons are used far too often and they shouldn’t be.”