The mass demonstrations occurring throughout Indonesia for the past few days have involved local police firing tear gas at civilians.
But what exactly is tear gas and how dangerous is it when you are engulfed in it?
Tear gas is a substance that binds and reacts to moisture. The aerosolised crystals attach to the wet surfaces of a person’s eyes, mouth, skin, and breathing passages. The body’s defense mechanisms go into overdrive, trying to flush the chemicals away with tears and mucus. The pain and panic, combined with the body’s swift reaction, can incapacitate or disorient a victim.
When used properly, it should be non-lethal. However, exposure to tear gas causes often severe symptoms such as severe burning of the eyes, mouth, throat, and skin. Victims cough, choke, and retch, with tears and mucus streaming uncontrollably from their eyes, noses, and throats. In response to the pain, victims’ eyelids snap shut and temporary blindness can sometimes occur.
Dr. Jordt explained to the National Geographic that, “There are enough examples where people suffered severe injury and burns, especially in enclosed environments or city streets with several-story buildings. Long-term exposure is very problematic.” Meanwhile, reports are stating that the tear gas being used had expired.
If a victim can escape the tear gas and get to open air, the symptoms usually wear off within one hour, though burning eyes and skin, dizziness, and disorientation can last much longer. Though currently there’s no cure for victims other than getting away into the open air.
Lots of Indonesian journalists involved in demonstrations apply toothpaste under their eyes. How can this help? Firstly, it doesn’t prevent eye irritation; instead, it is to trigger your tear ducts to release tears faster and immediately help soak the substance away. And secondly, if a victim’s eyes are burning, do not scratch at all for 30 minutes to an hour. Some people came prepared to demonstrations with a gas mask, but for those without access to one, any cloth such as a handkerchief, bandana, or even a shirt can be used to cover up the mouth and nose.
A mass demonstration by Indonesian university students across Indonesia since Tuesday 23rd September 2019 is to demand the abolition of the revised Corruption Eradication Commission law that was newly passed by the House of Representatives, along with a request to President Joko Widodo to drop the revised Criminal Code draft.