Chemical Weapons – Identification and Effects

Update May 17, 2021: Corrections have been made based on feedback from the Chemical Weapons Research Consortium (CWRC). Deepest thanks to them for helping us improve this community-sourced project. Check their munitions library for detailed information and visual references for the chemicals listed below.

Update May 16, 2021: We’ve been alerted that some of the information here should be revised. The review process is ongoing and updates will be posted as we work to make this an accurate and useful document.

This information was collected from a variety of sources and the collective experience of several PDX medics, who wish to remain anonymous.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer: This is provided as information only, and should not be used to replace qualified medical care.

Tear gas

  • Street Name: Tear gas
  • Chemical Name Abbreviation: CS, OC, other lachrymator agents
  • Identifying Features:
    • thin, light “gas” when used alone
    • often mixed with smoke effect agents
    • strong “spicy” or sour smell
    • if delivered from an explosive, may be mixed with a sulfur smell from the incendiary chemicals
  • Delivery Method(s):
    • cylindrical hand-tossed grenades
    • triple chasers – splits into three smaller grenades
    • 40mm launcher skat shells – deploys several smaller incendiary devices
    • many other possible configurations
  • Patient Symptoms:
    • coughing, sometimes to the point of vomiting
    • lachrymator
    • rapidly increased mucus production and expulsion
    • mild burning skin
    • symptoms appear seconds after exposure
  • Life-threatening Interactions and Symptoms:
    • monitor for mildly delayed respiratory distress, especially in patients with respiratory conditions
  • Best Course of Treatment:
    • move to area free of contaminant
    • eyewash (saline or water)
    • treat respiratory symptoms as needed
  • Other Notes and Comments:
    • can cause pretty severe contact dermatitis if not washed off in 12-24 hours

Pepper spray/gel

  • Street Name: Mace / Pepper spray / Pepper gel
  • Chemical Name Abbreviation: OC, CS/CN mix
  • Identifying Features:
    • some brands dyed orange/red, but can be clear
    • wet, gel can be sticky
  • Delivery Method(s):
    • spray canisters from small (keychain-sized) to large (small fire extinguisher shape and size)
  • Patient Symptoms:
    • severe burning skin
    • unable to open eyes
    • coughing and sneezing
    • increased mucus production and expulsion
    • burning eyes
    • gel forms are less likely to burn the skin, symptoms tend to be mild
  • Life-threatening Interactions and Symptoms:
    • monitor for mildly delayed respiratory distress, especially in patients with respiratory conditions
  • Best Course of Treatment:
    • wipe away substance (with Sudecon if available)
    • eyewash (saline or water)
    • remind patients that the burning will subside when the skin is allowed to dry
    • treat respiratory symptoms as needed
  • Other Notes and Comments:
    • oil-based, so heavily diluted baby shampoo can be used to wash excess off of skin, just follow with a saline rinse


  • Adamsite or DM gas has been the subject of many rumors, due to symptoms that were occuring at protests and the presence of green smoke, but research and testing in PDX have shown that the symptoms displayed were likely the result of HC smoke. Green smoke grenades were seen in use at the same time, explaining the smoke color. There has been no evidence of DM use in recent protests.

HC smoke

  • Street Name: HC smoke
  • Chemical Name Abbreviation: HC
  • Identifying Features:
    • thick smoke
  • Delivery Method(s):
    • smoke canister
  • Patient Symptoms:
    • nausea
    • coughing
    • damage to the nerve endings in nasal passages and eyes impacts sense of smell and causes a mild burning sensation
  • Life-threatening Interactions and Symptoms:
    • high exposure level can lead to zinc poisoning, so if symptoms persist or exposure was high, consider an ER trip and heavy metal blood panel
  • Best Course of Treatment:
    • move out of contaminated area
    • eyewash
    • encourage patient to drink small sips of water after vomiting
  • Other Notes and Comments:
    • encourage patient to stay away from alcohol and to eat/drink things that support the liver’s natural detox process
    • further information from CWRC

Pepper / Powder “balls”

  • Street Name: Pepper balls
  • Chemical Name Abbreviation: OC, PAVA
  • Identifying Features:
    • white powder residue
  • Delivery Method(s):
    • round impact munition from a paintball-style gun
  • Patient Symptoms:
    • sneezing and coughing
    • watery eyes
    • mild burning skin at point of contact
    • bruising at point of impact
  • Life-threatening Interactions and Symptoms:
    • point of impact can be life-altering (like a shot to the eye), but life-threatening interactions from pepper balls is very unlikely
  • Best Course of Treatment:
    • use gloved hands to brush away powder to avoid further contamination
    • rinse eyes and skin as needed
  • Other Notes and Comments:
    • none

Wasp spray

  • Street Name: Wasp spray
  • Chemical Name Abbreviation: pyrethroids and pyrethrins
  • Identifying Features:
    • sprays clear
    • smells floral
    • usually in a black can
    • NOTE: this is NOT used by law enforcement (at least in uniform…), but has been used by right-wing protestors against people in PDX and other areas
  • Delivery Method(s):
    • large spray canister
  • Patient Symptoms:
    • unable to open eyes
    • burns more than most other chemical weapons
    • cheyne-stokes like respiration
    • red and puffy skin, especially eyes
  • Life-threatening Interactions and Symptoms:
    • the majority of patients will go into respiratory distress 30-45 minutes after exposure
    • the chemical petroleum distillate can cause aspiration pneumonia or chemical pneumonitis; relay the chemical information to the HLC (higher level of care) when contact is made regarding respiratory distress
  • Best Course of Treatment:
    • wipe away the contaminant
    • transport HLC/ER ASAP, assuming respiratory distress will occur
    • if no transport is immediately available, eyewash for extended period of time and closely monitor vitals
  • Other Notes and Comments:
    • petroleum distillate is often contaminated with carcinogens, and thus can cause dangerous levels of toxins in the blood, so a CBC is worth considering
    • Sudecon is ineffective
    • baby wipes can cause a chemical reaction
    • don’t induce vomiting if ingested

Terpepthalic acid

  • Info to come

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