With tear gas being released on protestors, we’ve been seeing and receiving a lot of questions. Here’s what you’ve been asking:
Is tear gas harmful?
Is tear gas toxic?
Can inhalation of tear gas increase my risk for contracting respiratory illnesses?
While we navigate through the current pandemic, you might also be asking, are there additional concerns surrounding the use of tear gas at a time when many are worried about COVID-19?
You’ve got questions. Reporter Lisa Song’s got answers. In her recent article in ProPublica, Song answers some of these questions and explains how exposure to tear gas might give rise to potential elevated risk for COVID-19.
Tear gas refers to a group of chemical compounds such as chloroacetophenone (CN) and chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS). They are sometimes used by law enforcement for crowd control and also by the general public for personal protection (in the form of pepper spray). According to the CDC, mild exposure to this class of chemicals can cause irritation to the areas of contact, typically the eyes, nose, mouth, lungs, and skin.
Tear gas is banned in international warfare, due to its numerous health concerns. However, tear gas is still being used as a method of crowd control. Beyond the concerns of the short- and long-term health effects of tear gas exposure, amidst the current pandemic some worry that there could be additional risks involved.
As Song explains, it’s too early to know exactly how tear gas affects COVID-19 patients, but a recent open letter signed by public health and medical professionals called for the discontinuation of the use of tear gas, smoke, or other respiratory irritants at this time. The fear is that they could increase risk for COVID-19 by “…making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection, exacerbating existing inflammation, and inducing coughing.”
Tear Gas Is Way More Dangerous Than Police Let On — Especially During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Protesters aren’t the only people at risk. Tear gas is entering homes and businesses.”