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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Is Ha'aretz just making stuff up? UPDATE: Not this time, at least.

Ha'aretz, Friday, had an article headlined: 2004 IDF study: High concentrations of tear gas could be lethal

Here's what it said:
Seven years ago, the IDF Medical Corps published a study on CS gas in both the Israeli medical journal “Refuah” and the overseas journal “Archives of Toxicology.”

That study, based on animal experiments, concluded that to kill a person, you would need a dose 800 to 5,600 times larger than the quantities used to disperse demonstrations.

Nevertheless, it added, a high concentration of the gas in a given location could cause serious or even lethal harm, and therefore, the gas cannot be considered innocuous.

Over the last year the IDF has begun using a tear gas grenade launcher in Bil’in, the Ringo, that allows them to shoot six canisters at once into the same place, creating a thick cloud of gas. The Palestinians say Abu Rahmah was caught in such a cloud.

When Haaretz contacted some of the doctors involved in the Medical Corps study, they declined to comment, saying the study was not necessarily relevant to today’s conditions.

The study “approved the way the IDF used tear gas then and determined that it was not life-threatening,” one explained. “If the way the gas is used has changed, and especially in a manner that creates much higher concentrations, it’s necessary to do a new study.”
I have this weird tendency to be skeptical of everything I read and to seek corroboration. And it just so happens that the Archives of Toxicology has its abstracts online, so I could look for any articles about CS over the past forty years or so.

The journal has published exactly five articles on the topic of CS, or to be precise, o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, since only one of those articles was written in the past ten years,  it has to be the article Ha'aretz is referring to because it was written by Israelis (published in 2003):

Report of accidental CS ingestion among seven patients in central Israel and review of the current literature
I. Solomon, I. Kochba, E. Eizenkraft and N. Maharshak

Abstract
A report of seven people who accidentally drank a juice contaminated with CS (o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile) is given. Due to its mucosal irritating properties, CS (also known as "tear gas") is commonly used by policemen and soldiers in riot control. However, only a few reports of its ingestion by humans exist. Ingestion of CS may cause immediate irritation of the oral mucosa and gastrointestinal symptoms later on. Damage of internal organs, which has been shown in animals but only rarely in humans, is probably related to the dose ingested. The extensive use of CS gas merits recognition of the signs and symptoms of its exposure in order to reduce anxiety in both patients and medical staff and to facilitate fast and efficient management.
And the paper does survey the literature about CS, although it only studies the specific case of the seven who accidentally drank juice laced with CS.

There is only one problem: the paper doesn't say what Ha'aretz says is written there.

Here are the relevant parts (h/t Zach who got a full copy for me):

The irritant effects of CS are of rapid onset even in low concentrations and are short lived (15–30 min) if individuals are moved into fresh air (Worthington and Nee 1999), though the time for complete recovery has been questioned (Editorial 1998). Irritant symptoms are produced at concentrations at least 2600 times lower than the lethal dose (Danto 1987). The systems and organs most commonly involved are the eyes, respiratory tract, skin and gastrointestinal tract.

...At high concentrations, enclosed spaces, or prolonged exposures, severe side effects may occur and human deaths from lacrimating agents have been reported (Danto 1987; Ferslew et al. 1986; Thorburn 1982).
CS is just one lacrimating agent, and the Thorburn paper, at least, was entitled "Injuries after use of the lacrimatory agent chloroacetophenone in a confined space" - and chloroacetophenone is not CS (it is the agent used in Mace.)

Unless there is some other article in the Archives of Toxicology that I am missing, then Ha'aretz appears to be making things up. They go on imply that current IDF methods of shooting tear gas are much more toxic than in the past, and further imply that this makes CS as deadly outdoors at it potentially is in an enclosed space for a full minute.

The entire article is trying incredibly hard to implicate the IDF, and it hangs on a study that simply doesn't say what Ha'aretz claims it says.

So where did Ha'aretz get this from? Did they read the paper and ignore it? Did they take the information from someone else and that person made it up? Or, is there a chance that the Archives of Toxicology had another article on CS, by members of the IDF, within a year of the article I found?

I've been looking hard, and I cannot find a single case of someone dying from CS outdoors, ever. And even indoor cases are very hard to find. Ha'aretz, however, seems to want people to believe otherwise. Why is that?

UPDATE: I have been emailed a link to the Hebrew paper (in the Refu'ah journal)  that Ha'aretz was referring to and it is not at all the one that was published in the Archives of Toxicology. It was written by different people than the paper I referred to above and appears to be a general overview of CS gas. (My Hebrew is not good enough to actually understand most of it.)

At any rate, Ha'aretz' assertion that the paper was published in the Archives of Toxicology is not true. I cannot find the paper in English anywhere, although here is the abstract.