The Science of Tear Gas | Summary and Q&A

August 6, 2020
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The Science of Tear Gas


Tear gas is a category of compounds that irritate the skin, mucous membranes, and cause symptoms like pain, coughing, and tears. Their effects can incapacitate people temporarily, but the long-term harm and safety are controversial.

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Key Insights

  • ๐Ÿ˜‚ Tear gases are chemical compounds that irritate the skin and mucous membranes, causing various symptoms like pain, coughing, and tears.
  • ๐Ÿ˜‚ Tear gases are used as riot control agents and have been in use since the early 20th century.
  • ๐Ÿ˜‚ There are two main categories of tear gases: electrophilic agents (CS, CN, CR) and capsaicinoids (OC, PAVA).
  • ๐Ÿ˜‚ Tear gases can affect various parts of the body, including the respiratory system, heart, and digestive tract.
  • ๐Ÿ˜‚ Vulnerable populations like women, children, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions may be more susceptible to tear gas effects.
  • ๐Ÿ˜‚ The long-term or chronic effects of tear gas exposure are not well-studied, and there may be potential risks that are not fully understood.
  • ๐Ÿซข Treatment for tear gas exposure focuses on preventing or limiting exposure and rinsing the eyes and washing the skin with water and soap.
  • ๐Ÿ˜‚ Tear gas chemicals can linger in the environment and on clothing, requiring proper cleaning procedures.


{โ™ซIntroโ™ซ} Tear gas has become a go-to way for police departments worldwide to try and break up a crowd. But thereโ€™s a lot of confusion out there about these chemicalsโ€”what they are, what they do, and whether they can cause long-term harm. So weโ€™re going to talk about the science of tear gas. And look, weโ€™re not here to tell you how you should feel ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What are tear gases made of?

Tear gases are typically liquids or solids that are turned into a spray or cloud using solvents or smoking reactions. Common tear gases include CS gas, CN, CR gas, OC, and PAVA.

Q: Can tear gases cause long-term harm?

The long-term effects of tear gases are still controversial and not well-studied. However, tear gas exposure has been linked to respiratory conditions, burns, heart attacks, and potential carcinogenicity.

Q: Are tear gases considered non-lethal?

Tear gases are often referred to as non-lethal, as the dose to incapacitate someone is much smaller than the dose that could be fatal. However, deaths have been linked to tear gas exposure, and the safety margin is debated.

Q: What are the potential treatments for tear gas exposure?

The best way to manage tear gas exposure is to prevent or limit exposure. Rinsing the eyes with clean water or saline and washing the skin with soap and water are recommended. Milk and other treatments have limited evidence of effectiveness.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Tear gases are chemical compounds, not actual gases, that are used by police departments for riot control. CS and OC are the most commonly used tear gases.

  • Tear gases can cause symptoms like pain, coughing, shutting of eyelids, and tears by binding to specific proteins in our bodies.

  • Exposure to tear gases can lead to serious health effects, including respiratory conditions, heart attacks, burns, and potential carcinogenicity.

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