What the evidence says about pepper spray safety


36 Responses to “What the evidence says about pepper spray safety”

  1. Jim Saul says:

    I’ve noticed BB beginning to frequently use the term “chemical weapons” regarding these sprays.  I think it’s a good frame to go with.

    As in “he used chemical weapons on his own people!”

    Though I also think of cheerleaders when I hear the word “baton.”  I guess we’re lucky the news doesn’t call them “tickle-sticks.”

  2. fenester says:

    Kids might also want to think “vicarious liability.”  Chancellor, can you say “non-delegable duty of care?”  I knew you could.

  3. anansi133 says:

    The pepper spray used at the WTO protests could not be washed off with soap and water: it was designed to release more nasty if you tried. The best way to deal with that stuff that I found was to use a pat of butter to dissolve the residue, and then wipe all that off before using soap and water.

    I wonder if the same agent is being used now?

  4. phisrow says:

    While we are on this topic, is there a pepper-spray equivalent of “Excited Delirium”? A suitably sciencey sounding term for definitely-related-to-the-perp’s-preexisting-moral-terpitude-not-our-spraying-him-and-beating-him-until-he-stopped-moving mortality that can result?

  5. marukosu says:

    Sorry for going slightly off topic, but can someone please tell me what’s the reference for the pic used above? It looks like Leonardo de Caprio, but I’m just not getting the joke and it’s driving me nuts!

  6. Jay Kusnetz says:

    Perhaps we need to refer to these weapons not as “non-lethal” nor as “less lethal” but as occasionally lethal or potentially lethal or “we really hope this time it won’t be lethal”

  7. Michael Hasse says:

    I wonder if a decent coat of vaseline would protect at least the skin against most of the chemicals in use at the moment?  And wouldn’t good old baking soda be a functional antacid?  A lot cheaper than Maalox anyway.  Could have some of those hand-pumped garden pressure sprayers with a baking soda slurry and just hose down the whole crowd right afterwards.  Of course I barely squeaked through high-school chemistry, so I could be way off base here – “is there a chemist in the house?”

    • bunaen says:


      I used work in a crew that sprayed coal-tar emulsion on the interior of domestic water storage tanks.  Coal tar has some kind of oil in it that will burn your skin right off.  One day someone came up with the idea of smearing Vaseline all over our faces where they were exposed (it was not until many years later that air-supplied hoods were used).

      We all got burned worse than ever.  It was really really bad.

      The oil in the coal tar that causes the burns collects in the Vaseline. Vaseline may shed water (because water and oil don’t mix), but an oil will dissolve into the Vaseline (which is just highly refined petroleum–i.e., oil).

      I would be very surprised if oleoresin capsicum (which is obviously an oil) would not accumulate in Vaseline in the same way.

  8. bjacques says:

    An Egyptian friend told me that, on the tear-gas front, the cops have not been catching up. The February uprising caught them flat-footed, and most of their gas had gone stale, or had even expired. Since then, they’ve stocked up on newer, stronger stuff from the US and Israel.

    Somewhat effective countermeasures include masks with layers of activated charcoal and a 5% solution of baker’s yeast.

  9. DFBM says:

    Are there finally any consequences for Mr. Pike rather than being an internet meme and the ugly face of a police state?

  10. professor says:

    I’m thinking Grilled Pike with Pepper Sauce…

  11. Alex Schroeder says:

    Last time I heard here in Switzerland water cannons used by the police have tear gas mixed in for riot control. Ironically, Switzerland has signed a treaty against chemical weapons such that the same mix cannot be used against foreign invaders. Only against locals… (not sure how trustworthy this page is, which I found by googling for appropriate terms: http://www.ssi-media.com/pigbrother/Dokgas.htm)

  12. rtb61 says:

    Lets also look a purity. The quality controls used to ensure product purity for a something that is intended to be sprayed into peoples eyes. Consider that eyes are in a loose socket attached via muscles to the skull and via a nerve directly to the brain.
    What level of control is used to ensure no toxic contaminants and no infectious organisms, in what is basically a medical application designed to torture the recipient and force submission via the extended application of extreme pain.
    What kind of society condones these kinds of weapons to be used upon their own population.
    What is the constitutional basis for their use, without the person being charged with a crime, without arrest and, without any form of due process.
    How in any way does using this product differ from say a public whipping, a punishment abolished decades ago by a less cowardly generation that forced it’s removal.
    Is it not the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment?

    • Guest says:

      Is it not the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment?

      Nope. That’s what the JUDICIAL BRANCH is not allowed to assign.

      This is the very definition of assault with intent to maim.

  13. peregrinus says:

    Capsicum also has some tricky chemical interactions – ACE inhibitor (causes a dry cough, and possibly messes with high blood pressure medication), it’s an anticoagulant agent (so tricky if you’re on blood thinners – warfarin, voltarin – even aspirin and ibuprofen! - etc), makes cocaine more dangerous (higher risk of heart attack), messes with sedatives, messes with antidepressants.

    Antidepressants in particular – interaction can cause psychosis, hypertensive crisis, serotonin crisis – and that last one is veeery interesting, as symptoms include twitching, overresponsive reflexes, hypervigilance and agitation.

    So a good dose of capsicum on an individual on meds / coke is risky.  On an individual on antidepressants – seems it might make them react negatively to an arrest situation!  I wonder what response that would draw from an officer trained to subdue with pepper spray?  MORE!!  MORE!!  Armlock!!  Resisting arrest, damnit!  MORE!!

    “Why’s he holding his chest and twitching like that?”

    How many people did you say died after pepperspray administration?  27 … or 61 associated?

    Even the US Army didn’t like it much – from the Pepperspray entry at wikipedia:

    The US Army concluded in a 1993 Aberdeen Proving Ground study that pepper spray could cause “[m]utagenic effects, carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neurotoxicity, as well as possible human fatalities. There is a risk in using this product on a large and varied population”.[

    Man, that’s some nasty shit!

  14. nehpetsE says:

    Out of curiosity, what are the legal charges used against civilians, if a civilian uses pepper spray against another civilian, or against a law enforcement personnel?

  15. Trent Baker says:

    I find it highly objectionable that police are all too willing to abuse so called non-lethal alternatives. The original idea behind their introduction was as an alternative to pulling a gun on someone. I think that whenever an officer uses whatever kind of force he should be required to submit an action report or whatever it is called, just as if he had discharged a firearm.

  16. andygates says:

    Would I be right in assuming that a dose of Old Spicy would really ruin your contact lenses, too?  Gack under lenses is evil enough without having to remove them while pitching an agony fit in a dirty place.  Classy.

    Thing about all these “less-lethal” weapons is that, exactly as the pesky Left and civlib folks predicted, the people with them use them casually to enforce compliance.  Not to protect, to enforce compliance.   Now, I’m sure that cops are happy not to get in fracas, but it means the threshold of enforcement comes way, way down. 

    Using it as human bug spray is functionally equivalent to beating them so they’re easier to arrest, but without that pesky risk – making it more attractive to a certain mindset. 

    This whole thing needs some big class-action lawsuits.

  17. EEllis says:

    It might suprise people to know that while OC spray is dangerous and can cause health issues you are more likely to be injured if a cop just puts his hands on you than if OC is used. Yep nothing is safe or guarantied but used reposible OC is safer than westling with someone and not for the police but for the suspect. Now I don’t know if the protesters needed to be removed or not but 95% of the arguments used are ignorant or just plain faulse. This is an example.  Also some facts are wrong or misleading in the excerpted article. Civilian and Law Enforcement Pepper sprays range from 0.18% to 1.33% Major Capsaicinoids. Bear Sprays range from 1.0% to 2.0% Major Capsaicinoids. There are 5 Capsaicinoids or types of pepper used in OC spray. The amount of Oleoresin Capsicum, one of those 5 Capsaicinoids, does not indicate how strong the spray is. It’s a combination of total  Capsaicinoids  and the amount of Oleoresin Capsicum. Trust me though bear spray is much stronger. In the ACLU study none of the deaths were directly atributed to OC spray and all but 2 were drunk or on drugs. The other 2 were……well had mental issues. Really being drunk and being arrested looks more dangerous than OC and the same.

  18. Thebes says:

    Ticked off about the Police State’s thuggery for the 1%?
    Lets have some FUN on Black Friday.

    Go to your “local” Corporate Big Box. Fill your cart with the “hottest” consumerist items. Cover with other Corporate crap. Then- Abandon the cart in some inconspicuous place, like near the bathrooms or at the register saying you’ll be right back – forgot your wallet in the car.

    Rearrange the store, place condoms next to the baby clothing, hide electronics behind the laxatives.

    Then, later this weekend, shop locally from small businesses and craftspersons. Consider making (wow, actually making something) your gifts. Spend quality time with your family and friends rather than spending money you don’t have on trinkets no one needs made in a place whose human rights record everyone wishes they could forget.

  19. Mitch_M says:

    “…death was more likely if the victim was also restrained.” Say what? I can’t see any motive other than sadism to spray that stuff on someone who is already restrained.

  20. mattashburn says:

    The concentration in OC spray used by most U.S. police is nowhere close to 10-20% as stated by the good doctor, or even 5% as used in the study.  Most are around 2-3%.  Here’s a brand commonly issued to police: http://www.galls.com/style-SD114-general_catalog-fox-flip-top-dispenser-mark-5-oc-defense-spray

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