Tear gas: Effects and what it does to the human body

Exploded tear gas canisters. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Tear gas is a chemical compound commonly used as a riot control agent.

It temporarily makes people unable to use some of the keys senses of the human body by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin

  1. It is classified as a non-lethal chemical weapon.
  2. Immediate signs and symptoms of exposure to a riot control agent are:
  3. Eyes: excessive tearing, burning, blurred vision, redness
  4. Nose: runny nose, burning, swelling
  5. Mouth: burning, irritation, difficulty swallowing, drooling
  6. Lungs: chest tightness, coughing, choking sensation, noisy breathing (wheezing), shortness of breath
  7. Skin: burns, rash
  8. Nausea and vomiting

Long-term health effects of exposure to teargas

  1. Prolonged exposure, especially in an enclosed area, may lead to long-term effects such as:
  2. Eye problems including scarring, glaucoma, and cataracts, and may possibly cause breathing problems such as asthma.
  3. When inhaled by persons using contact lenses, they can develop serious allergies since some of the components in the lenses can react with the gas chemicals
  4. There is the danger of being hit and killed by shrapnels, that is bits and pieces of an exploded grenade.
  5. If the effects go away soon after a person is removed from exposure to the riot control agent, long-term health effects are unlikely to occur.
A plain-clothed police officer fires teargas to disperse Azimio la Umoja supporters during anti-government protests in Nairobi on March 20, 2023. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Types of tear gas

  1. Several different compounds are considered to be riot control agents. The most common compounds are:
  2. Chloroacetophenone (CN)
  3. Chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS).
  4. Others include chloropicrin (PS), which is also used as a fumigant (that is, a substance that uses fumes to disinfect an area);
  5. Bromobenzylcyanide (CA);
  6. Dibenzoxazepine (CR) and combinations of various agents.

Use of tear gas in crowd control

  1. The amount of tear gas used depends on the nature of the riot.
  2. Police officers are usually given a certain number of canisters and the remaining ones are taken back to the station
  3. The use of teargas during protests is controlled by a riot commander who directs when and where to fire the smoke grenades.
  4. Expert manuals dictate that teargas canisters should be fired at 45-degree angles upwards and from a distance of 360 feet. But in unpredictable riot environments, these regulations are disregarded as officers are forced to fire from shoulder level.
Azimio leader Raila Odinga's vehicle shrouded in teargas as he leaves Serena Hotel on March 20, 2023. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The policing norms in Kenya

  1. When policing assemblies, whether lawful or unlawful, the government and its police service are urged, in very strong terms, to adhere to international standards, most of which are also regional and national standards or norms.
  2. Every person has the right to participate in assemblies as guaranteed in the various international covenants and declarations, of which Kenya is a signatory.
  3. When dispersing assemblies, especially where they are unlawful, but non-violent, police should avoid the use of force, and where used, to the minimum extent necessary.
  4. Where public assemblies turn violent, the police shall avoid the use of force unless to the extent minimum and necessary, but cautioned is urged that firearms (which are a form of lethal force), shall not be used.
  5. Kenya is committed to the above standards through Article 2(6) of the Constitution. Others are the National Police Service Commission Act (with amendments) and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority Act which enrich policing norms in Kenya by providing how the National Police Service should operate, including during public order management.

Source: CDC Fact sheet, IPOA

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