Chemical Weapons 101

There is a lot of bad information circulating around Occupy Denver about chemical weapons and how to treat them. Here are our protocols that we use for Tear Gas and Pepper Spray. Circulate very widely.

Please use this information to prepare yourself and your friends. To run as a Street Medic, please attend a training. You can also attend health and safety classes taught by Street Medics for more in depth education.

***Remember that none of these effects are universal. People respond very differently to chemical weapons***

***ALSO! These weapons are primarily weapons of fear. One of the best things everyone can do is help spread calm to panicking people, walk away from the scene (don’t run!) and get people to medics.***

Being Prepared

- NEVER wear contacts to a demonstration.

- Dress in layers

- Wear sunscreen regularly every day year-round, especially in Colorado. Oil-free is best, but in Colorado particularly it is always better to wear sunscreen rather than be exposed to chemical weapons on a sunburn

- Wear closed toed shoes that are broken in with socks

- Do not wear dangling earrings. Take out facial piercings

- Bring a change of clothing (at least a shirt) sealed in a plastic bag

- Do not bring animals to a demonstration

- Be aware that there are additional health risks posed to children, elders, people with chronic medical problems (like asthma, COPD and heart conditions) and those that are pregnant. Street Medics strongly encourage these groups of people to avoid scenes with potential for chemical weapons (i.e. police are holding them, in riot gear, etc)

Tear Gas

Deployed by canisters which are fired or thrown in grenades into a crowd. These canisters are also full of smoke. Sometimes they will have BBs and other projectiles mixed in. Tear Gas is not commonly used in busy urban areas, especially in Denver, as it lingers in the air for prolonged periods. The effects of tear gas diminish drastically once you move away from the gas.

Effects

-       Irritation: eyes, skin, mucous membranes

-       Breathing trouble

-       Nausea & vomiting

-       Panic

-       Damage to the eyes (if you are wearing contacts)

Tear gas can have long terms side effects such as flu-like symptoms, disruption to menstrual cycles and other complications.

Pepper Spray

Deployment: A foam or liquid fired from canisters, guns that look like super-soakers, swabbed onto the skin (done in prisons/jails, sit-ins and tree sits) and pepper balls (paint balls filled with concentrated powdered capsaicin)

Effects:

-       Panic

-       Burning

-       Nausea

-       Breathing problems

Eye and Respiratory Protection

Eyes: Swim goggles with rubber seals and no foam will protect eyes sufficiently. Do not wear contacts even if you have eye protection!

Respiratory: A bandana soaked in apple cider vinegar and sealed in a ziploc bag is the easiest protection to wear. Tie this over the mouth and nose when you suspect weapons will be deployed. Wearing a dry bandana underneath can make the smell more tolerable. These are relatively short acting, so once weapons are deployed, make an exit. A respirator with N95 Chemical Particulate filters can be found at most hardware stores and will also work. Note: Respirators do not work if you have facial hair.

Gas Masks: Make sure your mask does not have glass lenses, as these will shatter and damage the eye. Gas masks are hot and hard to wear. If you get a gas mask, practice putting it on until you can do so smoothly and running in it. See if you can seriously wear one for prolonged periods of time.

What To Do

- Evacuate the area. Walk. Encourage others to walk.

- Find a medic or someone that can do an eye wash.

- Do not rub your eyes.

Eye washes

Eye washes are a forceful flush of water in the eyes. We use the squeezable bike water bottles (NOT drinking water bottles.) NEVER use anything but water for eye washes. WATER ONLY. Street Medics can teach you how to do an eye wash. Do not touch your face or rub your eyes.  

You may hear about using something called LAW (liquid antacid and water) for pepper spray in eyes. Many medic collective have success with LAW. However, there are specific risks and instructions for making and using LAW. Unless you have received this training, use WATER ONLY 

Skin

Washing skin with castile soap is the best way to get chemical weapons off. Wash so that water runs away from the eyes and use cold water.  

Decontamination

After being exposed to chemical weapons, it is important to remember that there will be a residue remaining on your clothing long after you are actually exposed to the chemicals. If you enter and sort of closed space while wearing contaminated clothing, the residue from your clothes will contaminate the room.

How to properly decontaminate:

1.   As soon as possible, and before entering an uncontaminated area, remove any exposed clothing and any other articles that may have been contaminated, tightly seal them in a plastic bag, and mark the bag “contaminated”.

2.   Shower in the coldest water you can possibly stand, scrubbing with soap. Do not use warm/hot water and do not take a bath.

3.    Wash contaminated clothes in a harsh detergent, dumping them straight from the sealed bag into the washing machine.

After exposure to chemical weapons, be sure to drink a lot of water. Be aware that these weapons contain chemicals that can have lasting health issues. Eating healthy foods (leafy greens, grains), avoiding drugs/alcohol and being more health conscious after an action can help you recover faster.

A few important things to remember in general:

1. If you are hurt or need a medic and can walk, please come to our marked treatment areas or approach us

2. If you cannot move or see someone that cannot move, yell “MEDIC”

3. Many people have valuable training in medicine, but Street Medic trainings use specific and time tested methods for protest specific injuries. Please do not represent yourself as a street medic or intervene in Street Medic treatments. We would be happy to do a bridge training so you can run with us or help set up a role for you if you contact us in advance.

4. Street Medics need space to treat patients. If you see us taking care of someone, help us hold a space. Stand around us with your back to our patient. Don’t allow media or bystanders until we say it is okay.

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