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MEDICAL INFORMATION FROM PRAGUE 2000
The Praha medic team consists of Czech and international activists who have provided health care in the streets in many cities, including Seattle, Washington DC, London, Philadelphia, Windsor, Canada and Los Angeles. We believe that health care is political. That the act of arming oneself with information that will make us stronger, more resilient, and sustainable is a revolutionary act.
To this end, we are offering trainings in basic First Aid that is specific to our needs as activists who participate in demonstrations and direct actions. We also offer a training about chemical weapons (tear gas and pepper spray only), and how we can protect ourselves and minimize the physical effects of these chemicals. Additionally, we are organizing medical care on the streets during the action so we can care for our people and enable everyone to remain in the streets for as long as they would like.
The information provided here is intended to help you prepare in advance for the action and is not a substitute for the trainings, which are quite thorough. We strongly advise that at least one person from each affinity group takes both the first aid training and the protection against chemical weapons training.
Here is a basic list of supplies to bring for your first aid kit, and to donate to the medical team.
- water (as much as you can carry. this is for you and your friends to drink, for irrigating eyes and wounds, for cooling off. it's worth its weight--bring lots)
- several pairs of vinyl gloves (protect against blood AND pepper spray, latex works but is a common allergen)
- change &/or card for telephone call
- paper, pen, duct tape, marker
- wound care supplies (Band-aids, steri-strips, 2x2 & 4x4 bandages, 1st aid tape, Bactroban or other antiseptic)
- ace bandage
- chemical weapons decontamination supplies (3 small bottles of canola oil, alcohol, and a solution of liquid antacid/water, 1:1 ratio--this in a spray bottle, lots of gauze sponges or clean rags, stored in several small plastic bags)
- small tampons (good for nose bleeds)
- tongue depressors (for splinting)
- clean shirt in plastic bag (to change into if you get heavily gassed)
- sun screen or rain gear, weather depending
- Emergen-C (or other powdered electrolyte mix)
- Rescue Remedy (good for shock, trauma)
- tube of cake icing (or hard candy--good for raising blood sugar)
- aspirin, ibuprofen
- inhaler, epinephrine, benadryl (for those qualified to use them)
What you bring and wear will largely determine how much fun you have in the streets, and how long you'll be able to stay there. If you pack your bag too heavy, that will also limit your mobility and increase your fatigue. Think ahead, and please check out our little guide to ACTION FASHION:
WHAT TO WEAR
WHAT TO BRING
- comfortable, protective shoes that you can run in
- clothing which covers most of your skin to protect from sun and pepper spray exposure
- shatter-resistant eye protection ie: sunglasses, swim goggles, or gas mask
- gas mask or goggles paired with a respirator or bandanna to protect during chemical weapons deployment
- weather-related gear (i.e.: rain gear or sun hat)
- heavy-duty gloves if you plan to handle hot tear gas canisters
- fresh clothes in plastic bag (in case yours get contaminated)
- a cap or hat to protect you from the sun and from chemical weapons
ACTION FASHION FAUX PAS
- lots of water in plastic bottle with squirt or spray top, to drink and to wash off your skin or eyes if needed
- energy snacks
- identification and/or emergency contact information.
- just enough money for pay-phone, food, transportation
- watch, paper, pen for accurate documentation of events, police brutality, injuries
- water- or alcohol-based sunscreen
- your inhaler, epipen, insulin or other medication if you require it
- several days of your prescription medication and doctor's note in case of arrest
- menstrual pads, if needed. Avoid using tampons--if you're arrested you may not have a chance to change it (tampons left in more than six hours increase your risk of developing toxic shock syndrome)
- Don't put vaseline, mineral oil, oil-based sunscreen or moisturizers on skin as they can trap chemicals.
- Don't wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath.
- Don't wear things which can easily be grabbed (i.e.: dangly earrings or other jewelry, ties, loose hair)
- Don't go to the demo alone if you can help it. It is best to go with an affinity group, or some friends who know you well.
- Don't forget to sleep, eat, and drink lots of water. No matter how well rested and prepared we are and how tight our plan of action is with our affinity group, we can never really predict what will happen in an action, how the police will (over)react to our demonstration, no matter how peaceful we may be.
A little information can go a long way towards dispelling myths, fears and misinformation, so we want to share as widely as possible what we have learned about tear gas and pepper spray:
PROTECTION AGAINST TEAR GAS AND PEPPER SPRAY, 101
The first thing to remember about exposure to these chemical weapons is that it is not the worst thing that could happen to you. The hype and fear surrounding them is enormous, but in reality, if you are careful and smart, you should survive it with little problem. This information is the result of conversations with experts, pepper spray trials done by the Black Cross Health Collective in Portland, Oregon, and our combined experiences of treating lots of people in various actions, including the WTO in Seattle, the IMF/WB in DC, and the actions against the electoral conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, we have no direct experience with these chemical weapons in Europe, so please be aware that this information is based on research from around the world, but experience only from the US.
What They Are:
Tear gas (also called CS, CN, or CX) and pepper spray (OC) are chemical compounds that are weapons designed to be used by the military and police to disperse crowds and subdue individuals. They are mucous membrane (the inside of your mouth and nose, among other places, are lined with mucous membranes) and skin irritants. They are mixed with solvents, and delivered through the use of propellants. Some of these solvents are registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency as causing cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations. In Seattle, one batch of tear gas contained methylene chloride, a highly toxic solvent which can cause mental confusion, headache, tingling of the limbs, rapid heartbeat, visual and auditory hallucinations, menstruation cycle disruption, spontaneous abortion, and varying effects on lungs and the digestive system.
How They Are Deployed:
Tear gas and pepper spray can be sprayed from small hand-held dispensers or large fire-extinguisher size tanks. Pepper spray also comes in plastic projectiles which are fired at the chest to knock the wind out of a person, who then takes a deep breath, of pepper from the burst projectile. Tear gas is most commonly deployed via canisters, which are fired into crowds, sometimes directly at people. It's important that you know not to pick up the canisters without gloves as they are extremely hot. Be aware that the time it takes you to throw it will allow you to be heavily exposed.
How They Affect You:
Both tear gas and pepper spray are skin irritants, causing burning pain and excess drainage from eyes, nose, mouth and breathing passages. Pepper spray is more popular with authorities as an agent of control because of its immediate pain-causing qualities. It is harder to remove from the skin and has the capacity to cause first degree burns.
If you are exposed to either, you may experience:
- stinging, burning in your eyes, nose, mouth and skin
- excessive tearing, causing your vision to blur
- runny nose
- increased salivation
- coughing and difficulty breathing
- disorientation, confusion and sometimes panic
- intense anger from pepper spray exposure is a common response; this can be useful if you are prepared for it and are able to focus it towards recovery and returning to the action.
The good news is that this is temporary.
Discomfort from tear gas usually disappears after 5-30 minutes, while the worst pepper spray discomfort may take 20 minutes to 2 hours to subside. The effects of both diminish sooner with treatment. Because pepper spray penetrates to the nerve endings, its effects may last for hours after removal from the skin.
There are many myths about treatment and prevention. Much of this misinformation is potentially dangerous. Some of it, if applied, could greatly increase or prolong a person's reaction to exposure, or at the very least provide a false sense of security.
For most healthy people, the effects of tear gas and pepper spray are temporary. However, for some people the effects can be long-lasting and life-threatening.
People with the conditions listed below should be aware of these risks and may want to try and avoid exposure. Please be aware that in intense actions, police behavior can be unpredictable, and avoidance is not always possible.
- Folks with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, etc. risk exacerbation, or permanent damage if exposed.
- Vulnerable people such as infants, the elderly, and the immune compromised, risk intensified and possibly life-threatening responses.
- Anyone with chronic health conditions or those on medications that weaken the immune system, (ie: chemotherapy, Lupus, HIV, radiation, or long-term corticosteroids such as prednisone) risk exacerbation of illness, intensified response and possible delayed recovery.
- Women who are or could be pregnant, or who are trying to get pregnant, may be at risk of spontaneous abortion, or increased risk of birth defects.
- Nursing mothers risk passing toxins on to their infant.
- Folks with skin conditions (ie: severe acne, psoriasis, or eczema) and eye conditions (ie: conjunctivitis or uveitis) risk an intensified response.
- People wearing contact lenses may experience increased eye irritation and damage due to chemicals being trapped under the lenses.
- Avoid use of oils, lotions and detergents because they can trap the chemicals and thereby prolong exposure. Wash your clothes, your hair and your skin beforehand in a detergent-free soap (such as Dr.Bronner's or most eco-friendly products).
- We recommend using a water or alcohol-based sunscreen (rather than oil-based). If your choice is between oil-based or nothing, we advocate using the sunscreen. Getting pepper sprayed on top of a sunburn is not fun.
- We also recommend minimizing skin exposure by covering up as much as possible. This can also protect you from the sun, as can a big hat.
- Gas masks provide the best facial protection, if properly fitted and sealed. Alternatively, goggles (with shatter-proof lenses), respirators, even a wet bandana over the nose and mouth will help.
How to deal:
- STAY CALM. Panicking increases the irritation. Breathe slowly and remember it is only temporary.
- If you see it coming or get a warning, put on protective gear, if able, try to move away or get upwind.
- Blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough and spit. Try not to swallow.
- If you wear contacts, try to remove the lenses or get someone to remove them for you, with CLEAN, uncontaminated fingers.
- DO NOT RUB IT IN.
We have been doing trials with pepper spray to find good remedies and have found some things will definitely help minimize the discomfort. None of these are miracle cures; using these remedies will help people to feel better faster, but it will still take time.
- For the eyes and mouth:
- We recommend a solution of half liquid antacid (like Maalox) and half water. A spray bottle is ideal but a bottle that has a squirt cap works as well. Always irrigate from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside, with head tilted back and slightly towards the side being rinsed. It seems from our trials that it needs to get into the eye to help. This means that if the sprayed person says it's okay you should try to open their eye for them. They most likely won't be able/willing to open it themselves, and opening will cause a temporary increase in pain, but the solution does help. It works great as a mouth rinse too.
- For the skin:
- We recommend canola oil followed by alcohol. Carefully avoiding the eyes, vigorously wipe the skin that was exposed to the chemical with a rag or gauze sponge saturated with canola oil. Follow this immediately with a rubbing of alcohol. Remember that alcohol in the eyes hurts A LOT. Anyone whose eyes you get alcohol in will not be your friend.
- Secondary treatments can include: spitting, blowing your nose, coughing up mucous (you don't want to swallow these chemicals!), walking around with your arms outstretched, removing contaminated clothing, and taking a cool shower. In fact, it is essential to shower and wash your clothes (this time in real detergents--no eco-friendly stuff here) as soon as you are able. This shit is toxic, and will continually contaminate you and everyone around you until you get rid of it. Until then, try not to touch your eyes or your face, or other people, furniture, carpets etc. to avoid further contamination.
- Remember, it is only temporary, and we are extremely strong.
A FEW HOT TIPS ABOUT GAS MASKS, & OTHER GEAR
The best protection against chemical weapons is a gas mask. The Israeli gas mask is the best deal (again, we're dealing with US information here, sorry...) ranging from $10-$20 from mail order or surplus stores. It accepts a single standard NATO size filter. They are quick to put on, have good visibility, and are not too heavy. The East German, and some Russian masks are grey rubber and cover the whole head, including the ears. They don't fit over large hair, and are slower to put on They also limit hearing. However they are lighter weight and the (standard NATO) filter is attached to your body via a hose. The American M17 is a bit heavy, but has a straw for drinking while masked, and there are "chemical" hoods available to cover entire head. Prices range from $25-50. The filters are harder to acquire. Any kind of mask should be tried on and sized before you're in the streets fumbling with unfamiliar straps.
When paired with goggles, respirators make an excellent alternative to gas masks. It is necessary to do some homework beforehand and find goggles that don't fog up and that fit tightly on your face with the respirator. Respirators can be purchased at safety supply or welding supply stores. Ask for filters for particulates and organic chemicals and tell the clerk what you're filtering to double check. Costs between $18-24.
THIS JUST IN: some specifications on British respirators, including manufacturer, reference number and cost....
- Sundstom TPE respirator --medium: 01689, large: 0168 -- 11.95 UK pounds
- CEN P3 filter -- 01656 -- 4.21 UK pounds
- CEN ABE1 filter -- 01671 -- 6.85 UK pounds
- prefilters, pack of 50 -- 01658 -- 9.25 UK pounds
- prefilters extend the life of your filters.
- All prices in UK pounds -- plus (+VAT) value added tax
- There are plenty of other brands from which to choose....
A bandanna soaked in water or vinegar and tied tightly around the nose and mouth is a last resort. It is far better than nothing, but remember that it is merely a barrier and not a filter and so won't do much for long-term protection. You can keep it soaking in a plastic bag until ready to use. Bring several, as multiple uses will render a bandanna as gassy as the air around you.
For protecting your eyes, swim goggles work well as they have a tight seal. Shatter-resistance is another nice quality for goggles to have. Most goggles have air holes to prevent fogging--fill these with epoxy.
Covering these holes with duct tape can work in a pinch against an initial attack, though not for long term protection. Try them on with your respirator or bandanna to ensure that they are compatible and that both will provide a tight seal.
You should be aware that whatever protection you choose will be visually quite powerful. Gas masks work the best; they also look quite scary and intimidating and can be alienating to others. They can also make us targets of police violence. Think carefully about your impact on others when you decide how to protect yourself.
Take care of yourself. If you are grounded, well-rested, fed and watered, you will have much more fun in the action. Dressing appropriately and preparing for the weather is key. Think water, comfy shoes, rain gear/sun protection, more water. Think mobility and comfort. Think creative energy and sustainability. Remember that we do this work because it is important and fun, and that at least some danger is essential to life.
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