Egypt’s Military May Be Using Lethal Teargas

Egypt, Cairo, Toxic Pollutants, Military, Teargas, Tahrir Square

Many people fear that the Egyptian military is using a lethal new brand of teargas to dispel protestors in downtown Cairo.

During the last two weeks in Egypt there existed a menacing energy that I hadn’t experienced before and which felt certain – like a pressure cooker – to explode at any moment. Sadly, as I was waiting to board my flight to South Africa on Saturday, violence did erupt again with terrible crackdowns from both the Central Security Forces (CSF) and the Military.

Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei called what is happening a “massacre” and tweeted that “Tear gas with nerve agent & live ammunition [are] being used against civilians in Tahrir.” This potentially new brand of tear gas has received widespread attention and the medical community is concerned about its long term impact.

Facebook and twitter feeds are on fire with updates from Tahrir square.

Journalist Eric Knecht tweeted: “There is both cs, cr , and this third propane-butane gas being used the last being even more toxic.”

An Arabic Media site wrote:”تخفيف اثر قنابل الغاز: يبلع برشام فحم و شرب قرفة و نعناع..منقول,” which prescribes a cinnamon and mint remedy to the effects of tear gas for protestors who endure long term exposure on Tahrir square.

One western journalist warned that people are exaggerating the seriousness of the teargas, while Amr Bassiouny has written an excellent tactical guide that will help protestors achieve the ultimate safety during these hairy days. He recommends scarves, running shoes, and a mask, and implores his readers to map out their exit strategy.

The Arabist rose above the potential hysteria by posting the following tweet from Ramez Reda Moustafa, a Neurologist from Ain Shams University:

To the doctors in the field (tahrir and elsewhere), my experience with the gas used by the police: It causes extra-pyramidal symptoms (involuntary jerks in extremities and trunk mimicking a convulsive seizure, occulo-gyric crisis, etc.) and little respiratory distress. The jerking is relieved by low-dose (3-5mg) diluted diazepam given slowly IV.

The type of gas used is still uncertain but it is certainly very acidic and is not the regular tear gas used in January. Please try to capture as many videos as possible of the symptoms for documentation (and eventually legal action).

This wikipedia entry outlines the properties of CR tear gas – the more ominous type than CS, which is normally used in crowd control:

CR gas is a lachrymatory agent (LA) exerting its effects through activation of the TRPA1 channel.[2] Its effects are approximately 6 to 10 times more powerful than those of CS gas. CR causes intense skin irritation, particularly around moist areas, blepharospasm causing temporary blindness, coughing and gasping for breath, and panic. It is capable of causing immediate incapacitation. It is a suspected carcinogen. It is toxic, but less so than CS gas, by ingestion and exposure. However, it can be lethal in large quantities. In a poorly ventilated space, an individual may inhale a lethal dose within minutes. Death is caused by asphyxiation and pulmonary edema. The effect of CR is long-term and persistent. CR can persist on surfaces, especially porous ones, for up to 60 days.

The use of this new teargas signals an ominous shift in the rogue Egyptian military’s tactics, demonstrating a fierce determination to hold on to power at all costs. This doesn’t bode well for next week’s parliamentary elections, nor for a more accountable, greener future.

image via Al Jazeera/Reuters

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