Tear Gas and Major Sporting Events

Jun 21, 2016
Category:Current Events 

Tear gas may affect EURO 2016 and related events

There have already been a number of incidents involving “tear gas” – also known as riot control agents, during police operations to control crowds and riot activity in French cities during the Euro 2016 events.  Tear gas is often misunderstood.  This is a guest article by Dan Kaszeta, a life-long expert in chemical defence.

What is “tear gas”?  “Tear gas” or to use the technical term “riot control agents” are a family of chemical substances that rapidly cause irritation, but which have a very large differential between an effective dose (one that causes pain, irritation, or temporary incapacitation) and a potentially dangerous dose.  The most commonly encountered riot control agents, and those, which are in use by law enforcement in France, are CS and OC.  (There are other, older chemicals still in use in some places around the world.)  In France, the general use of riot control agents is as a non-lethal alternative to deadly force and as a method for dispersing groups of people who are acting in a dangerous or unlawful manner.

CS is a nickname for the chemical substance 2-chlorobenalmalonitrile.  Generally found in powder form, It is generally deployed in either bursting or burning-type devices, such as hand grenades or grenade launcher rounds.  Bursting-type devices scatter a cloud of dust particles, whereas burning-type devices produce a smoke that is heavily laden with CS particles.   There are also spray devices, which disperse a cloud of dust particles.  There are also older devices, which dispense a spray of CS in liquid form.

CS causes eye irritation, painful irritation to the respiratory tract, coughing, and pain to exposed skin. Higher doses can cause vomiting and temporary visual difficulties.  All of these effects are temporary and pass within minutes.

OC is an abbreviation for Oleoresin Capsicum. It is an extract from chilli peppers or an artificially synthesized version chilli extract. This is why it is often referred to as “pepper spray”.  OC is more of a “point weapon” than CS.  It is generally employed as a spray weapon by police in close contact with an individual.  OC causes extremely painful eye and skin irritation, broadly described as far more painful than CS.  As an oily liquid, it is somewhat more difficult to inhale than CS, but if inhaled it does cause respiratory distress.  Like CS, the effects are temporary.

Safety:  Tear gas use is widely considered to be generally safer than many other “less than lethal” types of force, such as riot batons, projectiles, or water cannon, all of which pose the risk of blunt force trauma, which can be highly injuring.  Some serious injuries and fatalities have occurred in past incidents, but these are rare and associated largely with high volumes used in confined spaces.  Some segments of the population are more vulnerable to serious injury: elderly, children, people with respiratory illnesses, and people wearing contact lenses.  Burning-type CS munitions are very hot and have caused fires.  Some people have been seriously burned touching such devices.

Effects of Tear Gas on Major Events:  The following considerations are important in major event environments:

  • Private security and emergency medical personnel may not have access to protective clothing, such as masks.
  • Riot control agent employment may force movements of crowds in ways that are not expected, particularly if they are employed with poor tactical consideration by police.  Stampede injuries are possible.
  • Vulnerable people may be injured.
  • If winds shift direction and push clouds of CS smoke into unintended areas, areas may be made temporarily uninhabitable.
  • CS or Pepper Spray used indoors can cause property damage.
  • Burning-type CS devices may cause fires.

Medical Aspects:  Most people exposed to CS and/or OC are in extreme pain but not in any acute risk of injury.  The general advice is to get clear of the hazard area, remove items of clothing that are contaminated with large amounts of liquid or powder, and to aerate.  Affected skin and eyes can be flushed with copious amounts of water.  Contact lenses should be removes.  For more complete advice, this link is useful http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/riotcontrol/factsheet.asp

Misconceptions:  A number of misconceptions have circulated about CS and OC, particularly on social media in recent years.  It is important not to spread these misconceptions, as in previous instances they have been known to lead to misleading media headlines or have made aggressive situations worse.

  • CS and OC, despite the term “tear gas” are not actual gases.  They are smokes, aerosols, and liquids. But not true gases.
  • Tear gases are NOT “Mustard Gas”, although some social media accounts and even newspaper accounts allege, wrongly, that Mustard Gas is used as such.  “Mustard Gas” is a prohibited chemical warfare agent that is very different from riot control agents.  http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/former-aston-villa-star-stan-11461266
  • CS is not a “nerve agent” – this is an error based on a technically incorrect article published in 2015.
  • Agent Orange is not ever used for riot control agents.  Agent Orange was a defoliant used in the Vietnam war to destroy vegetation.  Orange coloured smoke seen during some riot control operations in Turkey was erroneously reported as “Agent Orange” in 2014.  https://twitter.com/Baka_62/status/346049296241668096
  • Riot control agents such as CS and OC are generally prohibited for many uses in warfare but are not prohibited by international treaty when used for internal security or law enforcement use.  Various commentators have claimed that tear gases are illegal. But this is a matter of domestic law, rather than a blanket prohibition in international law.  For the international legal situation, see here https://www.opcw.org/about-chemical-weapons/types-of-chemical-agent/riot-control-agents/


If you or the organisation that your work for would like advice or assistance on understanding and selecting the right mix of security please contact Design Security Ltd, Wales’s only Independent Security Design Consultancy at enquires@designsecurityltd.com

Chris Aldous BSc (Hons) (Open), CPP, PSP,

Director – Design Security Ltd

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