Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
WTO Seattle November 1999
Photo: Nick Cobbing.

Protesting Gives You Cancer

Tear gas used by Seattle Police against anti-WTO activists found to contain carcinogen

17th April 2000 / Squall Download 4, May-June 2000, pg. 12.

Seattle Police responsible for beating, gassing and incarcerating demonstrators opposing the World Trade Organisation Ministerial conference in November have admitted using a cancer causing chemical against the peaceful protesters.

Seattle Police Department 'Material Safety Data Sheets', recently obtained by the Washington Toxins Coalition under the US Public Disclosure Act (the equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act we haven't got), reported that the tear gas used during the week of November 28 1999, was mixed half and half with the solvent methylene chloride.

Methylene chloride, used industrially in paint stripper, is classified as a Category 1 carcinogen by the UK Health and Safety Commission. The American National Library of Medicine's Toxnet website lists symptoms of exposure to the chemical as: "Lethargy, mental confusion, headache, tingling of the limbs, acoustical and optical delusions, liver and kidney damage, increase risk of spontaneous abortion, coma and death."

Russell Sparks, a student from Bellingham, Washington who was tear gassed on December 1 told SQUALL: " I felt like I was on fire. A middle aged man near me passed out, eyes open, shaking, dry heaving, twitching at the shoulders. I tried to help but my eyes were burning."

Article Two of the Chemical Weapons Convention specifically excludes chemicals used in domestic situations, making it legal for governments to chemically quell riots as they see fit.

A Seattle Police spokesman told SQUALL that aside from their handguns, "all the weapons carried by the police are non lethal". Further comment has been suspended until completion of an internal review of the week's operations. Leon Eski who travelled from Sussex to oppose the WTO, said: "I was gassed and sprayed at least four times totally unprovoked. After I got home I was short of breath for a week or more, experienced pains in my kidneys and developed mouth ulcers."

Dr Ray Jones, an Open University toxicologist, said: "Methylene chloride will go through the skin quickly and into the blood stream. It is very soluble in fat. Many carcinogens don't take effect for ten, twenty or thirty years, by which time it would be impossible to trace the cause." Jones added that the body would metabolise the chemical into formaldehyde - an even more toxic category three carcinogen. "Spraying methylene chloride onto someone is very irresponsible," he said.

Def-Tec, the Wyoming based company which produced many of the chemical weapons used in Seattle, denied its products had any safety problems. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) received serious criticism over its handling of the protests. Residents of the city's Capitol Hill district complained of gas choking them in their homes. One woman was reported to have miscarried her baby, and SPD Chief Norm Stamper resigned.

Related Articles
K.O. THE WTO - Why the world is suddenly taking a stance against the WTO and its stealthy ambitions - Dec-1999
BATTLE FOR SEATTLE 1 - On the streets of Seattle during WTO Summit - Dec-1999
BATTLE FOR SEATTLE 2 - 2nd report from Seattle during WTO Summit - 6-Dec-1999