Acute tear gas health hazards pointed by a French health report

Link to article

The French society of toxicology just published a report about “tear gas usage and its short and long term toxic effects”. L’Obs exclusively released this document.

By Emmanuelle Anizon

Published June 27th 2020 at 9 a.m., update 9:45 a.m.

A man throws a tear gas grenade back, in Bordeaux, December 5 2019. (NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP)

French society of toxicology-chemistry, Paris, published a report about “tear gas usage and its short and long term toxic effects”. 126 pages, over a year of hard work by Alexander Samuel. L’Obs was already the first magazine to publish a portrait of this maths high school teacher, PhD in molecular biology, and disheveled haired itching powder who accidentally leaded a healthcare team in doing blood and urine analysis on Yellow Vests Movement protestors in France, to detect presence of Cyanide in tear gas, and its consequence on public health.

“Tear gas harmfulness has already been largely questioned worldwide, but such a review had never been written, says André Picot, head of the Society Of Toxicology-Chemistry. Most of the studies are not publicly available because they are limited to the military domain. This work is of public interest”. Burning hot news, while protesters are drowning in tear gas clouds every day around the world.

What does this review say? Outside of technical biological analysis, which we will not comment out of complexity, this review describes tear gas effects and highlights the importance of cyanide in producing those effects. Each CS tear gas molecule that is absorbed will release two cyanide molecules. Absorption is not only respiratory, but can also be cutaneous.

This review describes the mechanism of cyanide poisoning (blocking the respiratory chain and causing an oxidative stress), and details what happens to the human body even at low dose intoxication. This molecule mainly affects brains, livers and kidneys. Eyes would also be affected (cataract…). It has an effect on central nervous system (headache, anwiety, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, paralysis and even coma), on the respiratory tract (hyperventilation, tachypnea, dyspnea or apnea in extreme cases), on the cardiovascular system (hypotension, palpitations, arrythmia, tachycardia…), and even causing damage to thyroid, gastro-intestinal system (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), musculo-skeletal system (muscular rigidity), liver… In New Jersey, the Department of Health calls protesters who are exposed to check up their livers and kidneys. “Why is nothing done in France? Asks Alexander Samuel. For political reasons, the scientific aspect is not explored.”

Deaths ?

In his review, Alexander Samuel reminds events in which CS could have caused death, directly or indirectly. “A link is often established by families and friends between tear gas exposure and death, but there are often discussions and there is rarely clear evidence. Recently in the United States, a young woman died from a pulmonary issue just after a demonstration with strong tear gas exposure. It was first said it might be due to tear gas, then discussed… We will probably never know. In France, Steve Maïa Caniço, a young man from Nantes drowned in June 2019 after falling in the Loire river during the music fest in June 2019. This happened just after a police charge with at least 33 tear gas grenades in les than half an hour. Enough to disorient someone… And yet, I regret no forensic analysis

Alexander Samuel hopes his work will trigger more awareness.

“What I have written interrogates. I would like other people to start working on answering those questions I raise.”

He still goes on interacting with scientists, sociologists, and Non-Governmental Organizations (like Amnesty International, who just launched a website dedicated to tear gas). He already teaches dangers of using tear gas through web conferences to police officers… from Chile.

Emmanuelle Anizon