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Use of Tear Gas Questioned in Seattle

StoryDecember 07, 1999
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Doctors examining scores of protesters are expressing increasing concern that some may be suffering from the effects of nerve gas. Physicians say that while they have no definitive proof that Seattle police used nerve gas, many protesters are exhibiting symptoms consistent with the inhalation of some form of what are known as neurotoxic agents.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer reported that Seattle police ran out of department-issued tear gas and pepper spray last Tuesday afternoon, on the day that 50,000 protesters took over the streets of the city. The report said that a handful of officers “took matters into their own hands, getting permission to empty the munitions stores of nearby police departments. In addition, some drove around in a sport-utility vehicle to buy chemical agents from a local law enforcement supply business.” Meanwhile, a police captain flew to Casper, Wyoming–where Defense Technology, the company that makes the tear gas is based–to pick up a stock of gas from federal agents.

Although manufacturers of tear gas, pepper spray and other chemical weapons have claimed in the past that their products are harmless and do not cause permanent bodily damage, there have been lawsuits filed against some of these manufacturers that claim the opposite. This year, the Ottawa Carleton Police Services Board in Canada sued Defense Technology Corporation -suppliers of tear gas and pepper spray to the Seattle Police based in Casper, Wyoming -because their product does seem to cause long-term respiratory harm to some people.

And the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against a U.S. company, Federal Labs, for supplying tear gas to the Israeli Army, which was used on Palestinians in the West Bank and resulted in the loss of life.


  • Dr. Kirk Murphy, with Physicians for Social Responsibility, who treated protesters in Seattle during the week of protests.
  • Richard Deandrea, Medical Advisor, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the Humane Society. He assisted protesters who were tear gassed by police last week in Seattle.
  • Jules Lobel, Professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Filed a lawsuit on behalf of Palestinian victims of tear gas against Federal Labs, a U.S. based company that supplied the state of Israel with tear gas.
  • Nick Lacotta, Council member in Seattle who is pushing for an investigation into police abuse in Seattle last week at the WTO protests.

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