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Public Health Preparedness Home > Chemical Agents > Riot Control Agents Facts about Riot Control Agents

What are riot control agents?

Riot control agents are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.  Several different compounds are considered to be riot control agents. Most commonly used riot control agents are pepper spray and various kinds of tear gas.

These chemicals disperse a crowd that could be protesting, in a riot, or to clear a building. These agents can rapidly produce sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which usually disappear 15 minutes (for tear gas) and up to 2 hours (for pepper spray) following termination of exposure.

How do riot control agents enter the environment?

Riot control agents are used by law enforcement officials for crowd control and by the general public for personal protection (for example, pepper spray).

How can people be exposed to riot control agents?

Because they are liquids or solids (for example, powder) riot control agents could be released in the air as fine droplets or particles.  If agents are released into the air when used, people could be exposed through skin contact, eye contact or breathing.

How can riot control agents affect my health?

Riot control agents work by causing irritation to the area of contact e.g. eyes (excessive tearing, burning, blurred vision, redness) skin, nose within seconds of exposure.   The effects of exposure to a riot control agent are usually short-lived (15-30 minutes) after the person has been removed from the source and exists to fresh clean air.

How is exposure to riot control agents treated?

Treatment from riot control agents consists of helping the affected person get more oxygen in his or her blood and of stopping agent-caused chemical buns from getting worse.  There are special circumstances where extensive damage can occur but for the usual use of the agents, treatment needs are limited.  Eye exposures are treated by rinsing the eyes with water until there is no evidence of riot control agents in the eyes.  Burn injuries to the skin are treated with standard burn management techniques, including use of medicated bandages.  

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