Chemical Irritants

Chemical irritants for crowd control are a group of chemicals designed to temporarily deter or disable an individual by producing sensory irritation and pain in the eyes, upper respiratory tract and skin. The term ‘chemical irritants’ refers to tear gas (CS, CN, and CR) and pepper spray (OC or PAVA), and Omega also includes foul-smelling malodorants in this definition.

Chemical irritants can be dispersed in a number of different ways, including as a fine powder or smoke through weapon-launched or hand-thrown projectiles and grenades, via hand-held, shoulder-worn, and backpack sprayers, and by water cannon, where the powder is suspended in solvent and dispersed as a fine spray.



Chemical irritants can be targeted at a person, a group, or into a room. They are sometimes sprayed directly into the eyes or faces of individuals, which is inappropriate use. In many countries, chemical irritants are increasingly used in large volumes to disperse public assemblies, and this kind of indiscriminate use raises many concerns. Additionally, any use on an individual who is already restrained or otherwise under control may amount to torture or other ill-treatment.

Chemical irritants may have a legitimate law enforcement role, when used in strict accordance with international human rights standards. Nonetheless, they are frequently misused, and some delivery mechanisms, such as large munitions, should never be used.


Potential injuries

Injuries from exposure to chemical irritants, which in some cases can be life threatening, can include:

  • watering eyes
  • breathing difficulties, coughing, choking, and suffocation
  • vomiting
  • irritation, burning, and blistering of the skin
  • severe allergic reactions.


Injuries from launched grenades or projectiles can include:

  • bruises
  • internal bleeding and damage to organs
  • broken bones
  • temporary or permanent damage to eyesight
  • concussion and other head injuries.


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