Thursday, December 22, 2011

Poison in the Air

Activists across the Middle East are reporting a mysterious toxin, possibly a banned nerve agent, in the thick clouds of tear gas used by security forces to suppress anti-government protests in recent months.

“This wasn’t tear gas, it was something else,” says Hassan. “It burned the skin and lungs, and we all fell to the ground shaking uncontrollably.”
A similar gas is suspected of causing the deaths of at least eight civilians in Bahrain since February. In Yemen, doctors reported that anti-government protesters exposed to what appeared to be tear gas arrived at field hospitals paralysed, unconscious, or in convulsions. Routine treatments for tear gas exposure had no effect.
“We are seeing symptoms in the patient’s nerves, not in their respiratory systems. I’m 90 percent sure it’s nerve gas and not tear gas that was used,” Dr. Sami Zaid, a physician at the Science and Technology Hospital in Sanaa, said in March.
…Tear gas canisters recovered from protest sites in Arab cities bear markings of several different companies.

“We think the CTS canisters are causing the strange symptoms (reported in Egypt),” says Sherif Azer of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR). “But we also found some canisters with no markings at all.”

One concern is a buildup of malononitrile [link added] in the expired canisters. When heated, the acidic powder degrades into highly toxic hydrogen cyanide gas [Charles: this part of the description is a little dicey; it is clearly a potential source of hydrogen cyanide, however] – the same gas used with lethal effect in Nazi Germany.
According to medical sources, symptoms of cyanide poisoning include weakness, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. Higher concentrations can lead to a loss of consciousness followed by convulsions, muscle twitching and apnea. Less than a gram of cyanide is fatal to humans.

Experts, however, dispute the possibility of lethal chemicals forming spontaneously in aging or improperly stored tear gas canisters. They argue that like medicine, CS loses its efficacy over time.

Independent analysis allegedly found the tear gas used in Cairo contained a mixture of 2.5 percent bromine cyanide and arsenic – though this could not be verified. Thanks Maracatu

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