Protests Against Police Brutality Over Death Of George Floyd Continue In NYC
Getty Images / Spencer Platt

As protests against police brutality wage on across America and worldwide, some police in the US continue to respond with violence. And one dangerous tactic to disperse protesters is using tear gas. To help you stay safe, here’s what you need to know about being exposed to tear gas.

According to CNN, tear gas is a chemical weapon, and the substance has been banned from wartime use since 1993. However – as we have seen in cities like Atlanta and Washington DC – it is still being used against protesting civilians.

If you plan to protest, there’s a risk that you’ll be exposed to tear gas (and to the coronavirus). In light of this we’ve rounded up some tips on what to do – and what not to do – to stay safe.

Firstly, what is it & what does it do?

Tear gas (formally known as lachrymator) comes in a solid powder form (or liquid compounds) rather than a gaseous state. Tear “gas” is formed when the pressurized powder is mixed into a liquid form, which is then released in the air.

Common lachrymators also include/are referred to as pepper spray, mace, CS gas, CR gas, and CN gas.

While it is nonlethal, tear gas can cause blurred vision, burning in the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath, and a feeling of choking. During a global pandemic with respiratory effects, these symptoms are particularly dangerous. According to an online petition, tear gas could even “increase risk for Covid-19.”

Cover your face

Prevention is better than cure. Wear eye goggles and face coverings when protesting. This not only helps protect you and others from Covid-19, but you’re also crucial to prevent chemicals used by police from getting in your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Avoid wearing contacts or makeup

Contacts-wearers are advised to switch to glasses for any protesting activity. If that is not an option carry saline fluid with you so you can flush your eyes out and remove contacts in case you’re exposed. Leaving on contacts with the irritant on them can severely damage your eyes.

It’s also important to be as barefaced as possible, as tear gas is very difficult to remove from skin.

Create your own tear gas relief solution

First off, if you’re exposed, remember that it’s important to wash your skin as soon as possible. Packing cool water and soap is important, or you can create a mixture of baby shampoo and water.

Then to combat the chemical itself, the most affordable and accessible solution is a mixture of water and baking soda.

For irritation, milk can provide some cooling relief.

The video below shows how protestors in Hong Kong put out tear gas.

Carry your ID, health insurance and cash

If you do get exposed to tear gas and either need to go to the hospital, talk with police officers, or face any other exposure side-effect, it’s very important that you have the necessary documentation and money.

It’s crucial that you seek medical attention if symptoms don’t subside. Stay safe.

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Words by Sarah Osei
Staff Writer