The gray clouds that covered the sun over Athens two days ago were not the result of the movement of atmospheric masses, but smoke from tear and asphyxiating gases that the police used against anarchists, but also against demonstrating ordinary citizens.
"That is not just tears in the eyes," reported one of the foreign journalists who witnessed the heavy clashes on Syntagma Square from the roof of a nearby hotel. Over 500 civilians got first aid for suffocating, and tens of others received burns from the gas bombs explosions.
Today, the Athens Regional Prosecutor Eleni Raykou ordered an investigation of the police reaction and the spraying of large quantities of gases, after the union of pharmacists filed a claim. The union of doctors addressed the prosecutor of the Supreme Court and its chairman George Patoulis called on the police not to use chemicals, especially those which expired in 1979. Furthermore, the doctors sent five packages of gases that were sprayed against the demonstrators to the State Chemical Laboratory to determine their chemical composition.
GRReporter consulted the President of the Union of Chemists George Arvanitis about the toxicity of gases and their impact on human health and about the appropriateness of their use for dispersing groups of demonstrators.
Mr. Arvanitis, what is the content of the chemical gases the police used against the demonstrators?
We do not have information about their precise content. We know based on the available information the tear gas used by the public security forces contain the chemical component CS. Its full name is 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile and it is included in the list of chemical weapons. It is ten times more active than the similar substances in the composition of tear gases that were used in the past.
What are its effects on human health?
If the CS component is sprayed from a very short distance, less than five meters, in people's faces or in a closed space it can be toxic. It enters the body through the respiratory tract. In other words, when entering the larynx during breathing it causes respiratory problems and eye irritation. In extreme cases, it can damage the stomach after entering the digestive system. When large quantities are sprayed and when there is significant concentration in the air, the component can cause pulmonary edema and acute respiratory failure mostly in the so-called vulnerable populations such as elderly, children, pregnant women, and people with chronic respiratory and health problems.
How long will it take to clear the large concentration from Syntagma Square? The smell was very strong even yesterday, as if the gas was sprayed not more than an hour ago.
In any urban area there are several closed microenvironments, which are "guilty" for the concentration of toxic chemical substances in the larger urban complex. Also, the weather conditions in Athens during this season help the toxic chemical substances stay in the lower atmospheric layers for several hours and possibly even for many days. And in concentrations that can cause the symptoms for which they were made, even for long periods of time.
What is your opinion of scientists on the use of these gases during demonstrations?
What is important for us as chemists is that we are talking about a chemical weapon. The UN decision 2603 banned the use of these gases against foreign troops during wars. Their use against protesting people in a country is totally unacceptable for us. Therefore, we appeal in the letter we sent yesterday the Prime Minister to ban the use of tear gas and other chemical substances by security forces to suppress the people. We think this will be the only correct action. It will be an act of good government attitude to the society at a time when the confidence of the citizens to the political governance is at critical value. We expect a positive response because it is quite necessary.