TEARS OF RAGE
THE ISRAELI ARMY may be exposing Palestinians to potentially lethal doses of American-made tear gas, according to a training manual compiled by the company that supplies the gas.
"Firing one Federal No. 230 Flite-Rite [tear gas projectile] in a room [eight-feet by eight-feet by seven-feet]," the manual warns, "could endanger the life of an average subject if he stayed in the room for seven minutes."
The manual was prepared by Federal Laboratories, the principal U.S. supplier of tear gas grenades and canisters to the Israeli military.
Since the uprising in the occupied territories began last December, Israeli troops frequently have been observed throwing tear gas canisters into inhabited homes and stores. American doctors who have studied the gas say that Palestinians exposed in the open air may be suffering respiratory damage as well.
Palestinian human rights groups claim that at least 32 Palestinians have died from tear gas related injuries. This April, two deaths from tear gas were reported in the Gaza Strip within a two-day period. One of the deaths--a 21-year-old man who died after being tear-gassed in the Shati refugee camp--has been acknowledged by the Israeli army.
Burl Alison, a vice president of TransTechnology, the Sherman Oaks, California conglomerate which owns Federal Laboratories, describes tear gas as "a humane product ... the best thing that's been developed for crowd control and by far the safest." Alison, however, acknowledges that deaths can occur "if a [gassed] person is in a very enclosed area."
The doctors also reported that gas thrown into hospitals in the territories has posed "a severe respiratory threat to inpatients and required the urgent evacuation of some wards."
Members of the delegation, which was sponsored by the Boston- based Physicians for Human Rights, also told of an incident witnessed by Harvard professor Gene Sharp in which "soldiers tossed a tear gas grenade through the window of a small apartment in the Old City of Jerusalem from which there presently emerged five small children gasping and choking."
The delegation, which included Drs. Jennifer Leaning of Harvard and Jack Geiger of the City University of New York Medical Center, also heard reports of large drums of tear gas being dumped from hovering helicopters. They saw one such empty canister--two and a half feet tall and 18 inches in diameter--at the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip.
Federal Laboratories' tear gas canisters are a common sight on the streets of the occupied territories. Spent cylinders and grenades litter the streets after demonstrations and army raids, lying side-by-side with half-onions and bottles of cologne used by residents to counteract the fumes. Many of the projectiles carry the explicit warning: "Should not be fired directly at persons as death or injury may result. For outdoor use only."
Asked about reports that the Israeli Army is disregarding these warnings, Alison told the Monitor that Federal Labs had heard news accounts of tear gas deaths but had no plans to curtail shipments to the Israelis.
"We've offered to conduct training if desired but once the product leaves us there's not a way for us to monitor it and we leave it to the State Department to decide politically because we're not more than a manufacturing company," Alison said.
Spurred by protests from Arab-American groups and inquiries from news reporters, the president of TransTechnology wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in early April, expressing concern about the reports that Israel is misusing tear gas.
"Examples of injuries to civilians and children in situations not involving crowd control are cited and are reprehensible, if true," wrote Dan McBride, the company's president.
McBride told Shamir that the U.S. government was responsible for preventing such abuses. "We have no way of determining whether these incidents are isolated or more widespread," he wrote. "Therefore, we must rely on the ... State Department to monitor the proper usage of our products and we will continue to do so."
Tear gas shipments by U.S. firms are licensed by the State Department's Office of Munitions Control, which has authorized the sale of some 120,000 projectiles to Israel since the uprising began last December.
Tear gas is often described as relatively harmless. In a March interview with New York radio station WBA/Pacifica, Federal Laboratories President Dr. Dennis Constantine said the gas "is not lethal. It is considered as being an irritant and there are no permanent serious effects because of its use. Anything can be lethal if used improperly. A spray deodorant can be lethal if used improperly."
"Since juries have become more and more insistent that even homicidal gunmen must not be killed unintentionally," the manual states, "an officer using chemical agents must keep in mind the lethal possibilities of high concentrations of CN and CS [two different types of tear gas]."
The manual recommends that officers get used to the gas by heating on a hotplate "small capsules containing small quantities of the chemical" in a 10-foot by 10-foot room. These capsules, however, contain only a fraction of the 25 grams of CS or CN enclosed in the average tear gas projectile.
The manual recognizes that releasing a real gas weapon in such a room could be deadly for those inside. "We do believe," it says, "that a hazardous overdose could be created by the release of several projectiles or of even one full-sized grenade in a closed room." Such an overdose, the manual states, "can cause serious illness or possibly even death."
The manual includes formulas for calculating the "median lethal dosage" of CS and CN, expressed as the number of minutes it would take to "kill 50 percent of an exposed group of persons." In the example quoted at the beginning of this article, a Federal Laboratories No. 230 Flite-Rite projectile containing 25 grams of CN gas can be expected to kill half the inhabitants of an eight-foot by eight-foot by seven-foot room in seven minutes. They would be expected to live 18 minutes if the CS gas were used instead.
Doctors familiar with tear gas note that these formulas were devised by extrapolating from animal studies and assume that the people exposed will be normal, healthy adults. Effects can be more severe--and death can come sooner--for infants, the elderly and people with respiratory problems. Many of the deaths reported among Palestinians have fallen within these categories.
Dr. Howard Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health said that although research in the field is lacking, he knew of at least one case in the medical literature where an infant exposed to "a relatively low concentration" of tear gas in the open air died of pulmonary edema.
"In Vietnam," Hu said, "hundreds of people were killed by acute tear gas inhalation. When the gas reaches high concentrations, as it can in closed spaces, it will cause fatal pulmonary edema. Basically it will burn up the lungs and the lungs will fill up with water."
Leaning, who visited the West Bank and Gaza with the Physicians for Human Rights delegation, said that Israeli army tactics often exposed families to tear gas for extended periods of time. "People were kept inside because of curfews," she said. "It made it difficult for them to flee the homes that had been tear- gassed or they would have to re-enter the homes, so there would be a persistent exposure ... [during] which the worst consequences can occur."
Leaning told of receiving "three separate corroborated reports of tear gas use in [hospitals] where the ... gas had been thrown into the courtyard or the main inside entryway and had seeped through the ducts and ... caused problems in the maternity and neonatal wards."
"We saw a lot of people who had skin burns," Hu said. "We saw one case of a woman who probably either inhaled or ingested tear gas and suffered an intestinal perforation. We took testimony from physicians who said
(balance of article omitted here; unscannable)