Tear gas

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Tear gas in use in France in 2007 Police fighting against anti-Sarkozy with tear gas (487645695).jpg
Tear gas in use in France in 2007
Exploded tear gas canister on the fly in Greece Exploded tear gas can on the fly.jpg
Exploded tear gas canister on the fly in Greece

Tear gas, formally known as a lachrymator agent or lachrymator (from the Latin lacrima, meaning "tear"), sometimes colloquially known as mace, [NB 1] is a chemical weapon that causes severe eye and respiratory pain, skin irritation, bleeding, and even blindness. In the eye, it stimulates the nerves of the lacrimal gland to produce tears. Common lachrymators include pepper spray (OC gas), PAVA spray (nonivamide), CS gas, CR gas, CN gas (phenacyl chloride), bromoacetone, xylyl bromide, syn-propanethial-S-oxide (from onions), and Mace (a branded mixture), and household vinegar.

Tears secretion that cleans and lubricates the eyes

Tearing, lacrimation, or lachrymation is the secretion of tears: a body fluid which often serves to clean and lubricate the eyes in response to irritation of the eyes. Tears formed through crying are associated with strong internal emotions. This includes sorrow, elation, love, awe, and pleasure. Laughing or yawning can also cause tear production.

Chemical weapon Device that uses chemicals to harm or kill people

A chemical weapon (CW) is a specialized munition that uses chemicals formulated to inflict death or harm on humans. According to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), "the term chemical weapon may also be applied to any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action. Munitions or other delivery devices designed to deliver chemical weapons, whether filled or unfilled, are also considered weapons themselves."

Human eye mammalian eye; part of the visual organ of the human body, and move using a system of six muscles

The human eye is an organ that reacts to light and allows vision. Rod and cone cells in the retina allow conscious light perception and vision including color differentiation and the perception of depth. The human eye can differentiate between about 10 million colors and is possibly capable of detecting a single photon. The eye is part of the sensory nervous system.


Lachrymatory agents are commonly used for riot control. Their use in warfare is prohibited by various international treaties. [NB 2] During World War I, increasingly toxic and deadly lachrymatory agents were used.

Riot control measures used by police, military, or other security forces during a riot

Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest people who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. If a riot is spontaneous and irrational, actions which cause people to stop and think for a moment can be enough to stop it. However, these methods usually fail when there is severe anger with a legitimate cause, or the riot was planned or organized. Law enforcement officers or military personnel have long used less lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds and detain rioters. Since the 1980s, riot control officers have also used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and electric tasers. In some cases, riot squads may also use Long Range Acoustic Devices, water cannons, armoured fighting vehicles, aerial surveillance, police dogs or mounted police on horses. Officers performing riot control typically wear protective equipment such as riot helmets, face visors, body armor, gas masks and riot shields. However, there are also cases where lethal weapons are used to violently suppress a protest or riot, as in the Boston Massacre, Haymarket Massacre, Banana Massacre, Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Kent State Massacre, Soweto Uprising, Mendiola Massacre, Bloody Sunday (1905), Ponce massacre, Bloody Sunday (1972), Venezuelan Protest (2017), Tuticorin Massacre (2018).

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.


2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is the active agent in CS gas. Many lacrymatory compounds have similar structures. CS gas.svg
2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is the active agent in CS gas. Many lacrymatory compounds have similar structures.

Tear "gas" consists of either aerosolized solid compounds or evaporated liquid compounds (bromoacetone or xylyl bromide), not gas. [1] Tear gas works by irritating mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs, and causes crying, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, pain in the eyes, and temporary blindness. With CS gas, symptoms of irritation typically appear after 20–60 seconds of exposure [2] and commonly resolve within 30 minutes of leaving (or being removed from) the area. [3] With pepper spray (also called "oleoresin capsicum", capsaicinoid or OC gas), the onset of symptoms, including loss of motor control, is almost immediate. [3] There can be considerable variation in tolerance and response, according to the National Research Council (US) Committee on Toxicology. [4]

Aerosol colloid of fine solid particles or liquid droplets, in air or another gas

An aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets, in air or another gas. Aerosols can be natural or anthropogenic. Examples of natural aerosols are fog, dust, forest exudates and geyser steam. Examples of anthropogenic aerosols are haze, particulate air pollutants and smoke. The liquid or solid particles have diameters typically <1 μm; larger particles with a significant settling speed make the mixture a suspension, but the distinction is not clear-cut. In general conversation, aerosol usually refers to an aerosol spray that delivers a consumer product from a can or similar container. Other technological applications of aerosols include dispersal of pesticides, medical treatment of respiratory illnesses, and convincing technology. Diseases can also spread by means of small droplets in the breath, also called aerosols.

Bromoacetone chemical compound

Bromoacetone is an organic compound with the formula CH3COCH2Br. This colorless liquid is a lachrymatory agent. It is a precursor to other organic compounds.

Xylyl bromide, also known as methylbenzyl bromide or T-stoff ("Substance-T"), is any member or a mixture of organic chemical compounds with the molecular formula C6H4(CH3)(CH2Br). The mixture was formerly used as a tear gas. All members and the mixture are colourless liquids, although commercial or older samples appear yellowish.

The California Poison Control System analyzed 3,671 reports of pepper spray injuries between 2002 and 2011. [5] Severe symptoms requiring medical evaluation were found in 6.8% of people, with the most severe injuries to the eyes (54%), respiratory system (32%) and skin (18%). The most severe injuries occurred in law enforcement training, intentionally incapacitating people, and law enforcement (whether of individuals or crowd control). [5]


As with all non-lethal, or less-lethal weapons, there is some risk of serious permanent injury or death when tear gas is used. [6] [7] [1] This includes risks from being hit by tear gas cartridges, which include severe bruising, loss of eyesight, skull fracture, and even death. [8] A case of serious vascular injury from tear gas shells has also been reported from Iran, with high rates of associated nerve injury (44%) and amputation (17%), [9] as well as instances of head injuries in young people. [10]

While the medical consequences of the gases themselves are typically limited to minor skin inflammation, delayed complications are also possible: people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, who are particularly at risk, are likely to need medical attention [2] and may sometimes require hospitalization or even ventilation support. [11] Skin exposure to CS may cause chemical burns [12] or induce allergic contact dermatitis. [2] [3] When people are hit at close range or are severely exposed, eye injuries involving scarring of the cornea can lead to a permanent loss in visual acuity. [13] Frequent or high levels of exposure carry increased risks of respiratory illness. [1]

Dermatitis skin disease

Dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a group of diseases that results in inflammation of the skin. These diseases are characterized by itchiness, red skin and a rash. In cases of short duration, there may be small blisters, while in long-term cases the skin may become thickened. The area of skin involved can vary from small to the entire body.

Complication, in medicine, complication or medical complication is an unfavorable evolution or consequence of a disease, a health condition or a therapy. The disease can become worse in its severity or show a higher number of signs, symptoms,nor new pathological changes, become widespread throughout the body or affect other organ systems. A new disease may also appear as a complication to a previous existing disease. A medical treatment, such as drugs or surgery may produce adverse effects or produce new health problem(s) by itself. Therefore, a complication may be iatrogenic.

Respiratory disease disease of the respiratory system

Respiratory disease, or respiratory tract disease, is a medical term that encompasses pathological conditions affecting the organs and tissues that make gas exchange difficult in air-breathing animals. They include conditions of the respiratory tract including the trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, alveoli, pleurae, pleural cavity, and the nerves and muscles of respiration. Respiratory diseases range from mild and self-limiting, such as the common cold, to life-threatening diseases such as bacterial pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, acute asthma and lung cancer.


Reports of expired tear gas canisters picked up by protesters in Egypt led to theories that it could be more toxic, but Steve Wright of Leeds Metropolitan University said if enough time has elapsed that the chemicals have broken down inside the can, then it makes the canister less effective. [14] However, a study carried out by Mónica Kräuter, a Venezuelan professor of Simón Bolívar University, collected thousands of tear gas canisters fired by Venezuelan authorities in 2014, showed that 72% of the tear gas used was expired and noted that expired tear gas "breaks down into cyanide oxide, phosgenes and nitrogens that are extremely dangerous". [15]



Use of tear gas in warfare (as with all other chemical weapons,) is prohibited by various international treaties [NB 2] that most states have signed. Police and private self-defense use is not banned in the same manner. Armed forces can legally use tear gas for drills (practicing with gas masks) and for riot control. First used in 1914, xylyl bromide was a popular tearing agent since it was easily prepared.

The US Chemical Warfare Service developed tear gas grenades for use in riot control in 1919. [16]

Riot control

Certain lachrymatory agents are often used by police to force compliance, most notably tear gas. [7] In some countries (e.g.,  Finland, Australia, and the United States), another common substance is mace. The self-defense weapon form of mace is based on pepper spray, and comes in small spray cans, and versions including CS are manufactured for police use. [17] Xylyl bromide, CN and CS are the oldest of these agents, and CS is the most widely used. CN has the most recorded toxicity. [2] Tear gas exposure is a standard in Australia for military, police and prison officer training programs.

Typical manufacturer warnings on tear gas cartridges state "Danger: Do not fire directly at person(s). Severe injury or death may result." [18] Such warnings are not necessarily respected, and in some countries, disrespecting these warnings is routine. Israeli soldiers have been documented by B'Tselem firing tear gas canisters at activists, some of which resulted in fatalities, though the Israel Defense Forces insist that they maintain a strict policy of only indirect firing. [19] [20] Amnesty International criticized the usage of tear gas by Venezuelan authorities noting canisters being fired directly at individuals, causing the death of at least one demonstrator, while also being shot into residential buildings. [21]

However, tear gas guns do not have a manual setting to adjust the range of fire. The only way to adjust the projectile's range is to aim towards the ground at the correct angle. Incorrect aim will send the capsules away from the targets, causing risk for non-targets instead. [22] For example, this occurred during the 2013 protests in Brazil, 2014 Hong Kong Protests, 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests and both the 2014 and 2017 Venezuelan protests.


A variety of protective equipment may be used, including gas masks and respirators. In riot control situations, protesters sometimes use equipment (aside from simple rags or clothing over the mouth) such as swimming goggles and adapted water bottles. [23]

It has been suggested that "The use of masks that filter solid particles is effective, if and only if, the membrane manages to catch particles with sizes smaller than 60 microns". [14] [ not in citation given ]

Activists in the United States, the Czech Republic, Venezuela and Turkey have reported using antacid solutions such as Maalox diluted with water to repel effects of tear gas attacks [24] [25] [26] with Venezuelan chemist Mónica Kräuter recommending the usage of diluted antacids as well as baking soda. [27] There have also been reports of these antacids being helpful for tear gas, [28] and for capsaicin-induced skin pain. [29]


A paramedic tending to an opposition protester during the 2014 Venezuelan protests Opposition medic 2014 Venezuelan protests..jpg
A paramedic tending to an opposition protester during the 2014 Venezuelan protests

There is no specific antidote to common tear gases. [2] [30] Getting clear of gas and into fresh air is the first line of action. [2] Removing contaminated clothing and avoiding shared use of contaminated towels could help reduce skin reactions. [31] Immediate removal of contact lenses has also been recommended, as they can retain particles. [31] [30]

Once a person has been exposed, there are a variety of methods to remove as much chemical possible and relieve symptoms. [2] The standard first aid for burning solutions in the eye is irrigation (spraying or flushing out) with water. [2] [32] There are reports that water may increase pain from CS gas, but the balance of limited evidence currently suggests water or saline are the best options. [30] [28] [33] Some evidence suggests that Diphoterine [34] solution, a first aid product for chemical splashes, may help with ocular burns or chemicals in the eye. [32] [35]

Bathing and washing the body vigorously with soap and water can remove particles that adhered to the skin while clothes, shoes and accessories that have come into contact with vapors must be washed well since all untreated particles can remain active for up to a week. [14] Some advocate using fans or hair dryers to evaporate the spray, but this has not been shown to be better than washing out the eyes and it may spread contamination. [30]

Anticholinergics can work like some Antihistamines as they reduce lacrymation and decrease salivation, acting as an antisialagogue, and for overall nose discomfort as they are used to treat allergic reactions in the nose (e.g., itching, runny nose, and sneezing)

Oral analgesics may help relieve eye pain. [30]

Home remedies

Vinegar, petroleum jelly, milk and lemon juice solutions have also been used by activists. [36] [37] [38] [39] It is unclear how effective these remedies are. In particular, vinegar itself can burn the eyes and prolonged inhalation can also irritate the airways. [40] Though vegetable oil and vinegar have also been reported as helping relieve burning caused by pepper spray, [31] Kräuter does not suggest the usage of vinegar ("because it is also an acid"), or toothpaste, stating that it traps the particles emanating from the gas near the airways and make it more feasible to inhale. [27] A small trial of baby shampoo for washing out the eyes did not show any benefit. [30]

See also


  1. "Mace" is a brand name for a tear gas spray
  2. 1 2 e.g. the Geneva Protocol of 1925: 'Prohibited the use of "asphyxiating gas, or any other kind of gas, liquids, substances or similar materials"'

Related Research Articles

Capsaicin chemical compound

Capsaicin is an active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact. Capsaicin and several related compounds are called capsaicinoids and are produced as secondary metabolites by chili peppers, probably as deterrents against certain mammals and fungi. Pure capsaicin is a hydrophobic, colorless, highly pungent, crystalline to waxy solid compound.

Non-lethal weapon weapon intended to be less likely to kill a living target than conventional weapons

Non-lethal weapons, also called less-lethal weapons, less-than-lethal weapons, non-deadly weapons, compliance weapons, or pain-inducing weapons are weapons intended to be less likely to kill a living target than conventional weapons such as knives and firearms. It is often understood that unintended or incidental casualties are risked wherever force is applied, but non-lethal weapons try to minimise the risk as much as possible. Non-lethal weapons are used in policing and combat situations to limit the escalation of conflict where employment of lethal force is prohibited or undesirable, where rules of engagement require minimum casualties, or where policy restricts the use of conventional force.

Pepper spray Lachrymatory Agent

Pepper spray is a lachrymatory agent used in policing, riot control, crowd control, and self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears. Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision. This temporary blindness allows officers to more easily restrain subjects and permits people in danger to use pepper spray in self-defense for an opportunity to escape. It also causes temporary discomfort and burning of the lungs which causes shortness of breath. Although considered a less-than-lethal agent, it has been deadly in rare cases, and concerns have been raised about a number of deaths where being pepper sprayed may have been a contributing factor.

CS gas chemical compound

The compound 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (also called o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile; chemical formula: C10H5ClN2), a cyanocarbon, is the defining component of a tear gas commonly referred to as CS gas, which is used as a riot control agent. Exposure causes a burning sensation and tearing of the eyes to the extent that the subject cannot keep his or her eyes open, and a burning irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat, resulting in profuse coughing, nasal mucus discharge, disorientation, and difficulty breathing, partially incapacitating the subject. CS gas is an aerosol of a volatile solvent (a substance that dissolves other active substances and that easily evaporates) and 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, which is a solid compound at room temperature. CS gas is generally accepted as being non-lethal. It was first synthesized by two Americans, Ben Corson and Roger Stoughton, at Middlebury College in 1928, and the chemical's name is derived from the first letters of the scientists' surnames.

Phenacyl chloride chemical compound

Phenacyl chloride, also commonly known as chloroacetophenone, is a substituted acetophenone. It is a useful building block in organic chemistry. Apart from that, it has been historically used as a riot control agent, where it is designated CN. It should not be confused with cyanide, another agent used in chemical warfare, which has the chemical structure CN.

Blister agent chemical compound that causes severe skin, eye and mucosal pain and irritation

A blister agent, or vesicant, is a chemical compound that causes severe skin, eye and mucosal pain and irritation. They are named for their ability to cause severe chemical burns, resulting in painful water blisters on the bodies of those affected. Although the term is often used in connection with large-scale burns caused by chemical spills or chemical warfare agents, some naturally occurring substances such as cantharidin are also blister-producing agents (vesicants). Furanocoumarin, another naturally occurring substance, causes vesicant-like effects indirectly, for example, by increasing skin photosensitivity greatly. Vesicants have medical uses including wart removal but can be fatal if even small amounts are ingested.

Mace is the brand name of an early type of aerosol self-defense spray invented by Allan Lee Litman in 1965. The first commercial product of its type, Litman's design packaged phenacyl chloride (CN) tear gas dissolved in hydrocarbon solvents into a small aerosol spray can, usable in almost any environment and strong enough to act as a credible deterrent and incapacitant. Its popularity led to the brand name being shortened to simply "Mace" for all defense sprays regardless of the composition, and for the term 'to get maced' being commonly used as a term for being pepper sprayed, suggesting a chemical capable of disabling an attacker like a mace. It is unrelated to the spice mace.

CR gas chemical compound

CR gas or dibenzoxazepine, or its chemical name dibenz[b,f][1,4]oxazepine, is an incapacitating agent and a lachrymatory agent. CR was developed by the British Ministry of Defence as a riot control agent in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A report from the Porton Down laboratories described exposure as "like being thrown blindfolded into a bed of stinging nettles", and it earned the nickname "firegas".

Cryotherapy, sometimes known as cold therapy, is the local or general use of low temperatures in medical therapy. Cryotherapy may be used to treat a variety of tissue lesions. The most prominent use of the term refers to the surgical treatment, specifically known as cryosurgery or cryoablation. Cryosurgery is the application of extremely low temperatures to destroy abnormal or diseased tissue and is used most commonly to treat skin conditions.

Allyl isothiocyanate chemical compound

Allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) is the organosulfur compound with the formula CH2CHCH2NCS. This colorless oil is responsible for the pungent taste of mustard, radish, horseradish, and wasabi. This pungency and the lachrymatory effect of AITC are mediated through the TRPA1 and TRPV1 ion channels. It is slightly soluble in water, but more soluble in most organic solvents.

Chlormethine chemical compound

Chlormethine, also known as mechlorethamine, mustine, HN2, and embikhin (эмбихин), is a nitrogen mustard sold under the brand name Mustargen. It is the prototype of alkylating agents, a group of anticancer chemotherapeutic drugs. It works by binding to DNA, crosslinking two strands and preventing cell duplication. It binds to the N7 nitrogen on the DNA base guanine. As the chemical is a blister agent, its use is strongly restricted within the Chemical Weapons Convention where it is classified as a Schedule 1 substance.

Skin care grooming behavior

Skin care is the range of practices that support skin integrity, enhance its appearance and relieve skin conditions. They can include nutrition, avoidance of excessive sun exposure and appropriate use of emollients. Practices that enhance appearance include the use of cosmetics, botulinum, exfoliation, fillers, laser resurfacing, microdermabrasion, peels, retinol therapy. Skin care is a routine daily procedure in many settings, such as skin that is either too dry or too moist, and prevention of dermatitis and prevention of skin injuries.

Apple cider vinegar vinegar made from cider or apple must

Apple cider vinegar, or cider vinegar, is a vinegar made from fermented apple juice, and used in salad dressings, marinades, vinaigrettes, food preservatives, and chutneys. It is made by crushing apples, then squeezing out the juice. Bacteria and yeast are added to the liquid to start the alcoholic fermentation process, which converts the sugars to alcohol. In a second fermentation step, the alcohol is converted into vinegar by acetic acid-forming bacteria. Acetic acid and malic acid combine to give vinegar its sour taste. Apple cider vinegar has no medicinal or nutritional value.

Acetic acid A colourless liquid organic compound found in vinegar

Acetic acid, systematically named ethanoic acid, is a colourless liquid organic compound with the chemical formula CH3COOH (also written as CH3CO2H or C2H4O2). When undiluted, it is sometimes called glacial acetic acid. Vinegar is no less than 4% acetic acid by volume, making acetic acid the main component of vinegar apart from water. Acetic acid has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell. In addition to household vinegar, it is mainly produced as a precursor to polyvinyl acetate and cellulose acetate. It is classified as a weak acid since it only partially dissociates in solution, but concentrated acetic acid is corrosive and can attack the skin.

The Occupy movement has been met with a variety of responses from local police departments since its beginning in 2011. According to documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, the FBI, state and local law enforcement officials treated the movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat and used fusion centers and counterterrorism agents to investigate and monitor the Occupy movement.

Aerosol burn injury to the skin caused by the pressurized gas within an aerosol spray cooling quickly

An aerosol burn is an injury to the skin caused by the pressurized gas within an aerosol spray cooling quickly, with the sudden drop in temperature sufficient to cause frostbite to the applied area. Medical studies have noted an increase of this practice, known as "frosting", in pediatric and teenage patients.

Mónica Kräuter Venezuelan chemist and professor

Mónica Kräuter is a Venezuelan chemist and professor of the Simón Bolívar University. Kräuter gained fame during the 2017 Venezuelan protests due to her study of tear gas canisters and her advice on how to protect against its effects.

Death of Mustafa Tamimi

Mustafa Tamimi, a 28-year-old Palestinian taxi driver, was fatally hit by a tear gas canister by Israeli forces fired from close range and hitting him directly in the face on 9 December 2011 during a weekly protest in Nabi Salih, West Bank. The tear gas canister that struck him was fired from the rear door of a military vehicle at which he was throwing stones while running after it. The incident raised questions about Israeli military behavior when engaging with the demonstrators.


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Further reading