Tear gases is the common name for substances which, in low concentrations, cause pain in the eyes, flow of tears and difficulty in keeping the eyes open. Tear gases are used mainly in military exercises and in riot control, etc., but have also been used as a method of warfare. Irritating gases have been used in war since ancient times but it was not until after the Second World War that a more systematic search for effective substances was started.
Among a long series of substances, three have become of greater importance than the others. They are effective and imply low risks when used. These substances are chloroacetophenone (codename CN), orto-chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile (codename CS) and dibenz (b,f)-1,4-oxazepine (codename CR). CN was formerly the most widely used tear gas. Today, CS has largely replaced CN and is probably the most widely used tear gas internationally.
At room temperature, these tear gases are white solid substances. They are stable when heated and have low vapor pressure. Consequently, they are generally dispersed as aerosols. All of them have low solubility in water but can be dissolved in several organic solvents. Hydrolysis of CN is very slow in water solution, also when alkali is added. CS is rapidly hydrolyzed in water solution (half-life at pH 7 is about 15 min. at room temperature) and extremely rapid when alkali is added (half-life at pH 9 is about 1 min.). CR is hydrolyzed only to a negligible extent in water solution.
CN and CR are, thus, difficult to decompose under practical conditions, whereas CS can easily be inactivated by means of a water solution. Skin is suitably decontaminated by thorough washing with soap and water. CS is then decomposed whereas CN and CR are only removed.
Decontamination of material after contamination with CS can be done with a 5-10 % soda solution or 2 % alkaline solution. If this type of decontamination cannot be accomplished (e.g., contaminated rooms and furniture), then the only other means is by intensive air exchange - preferably with hot air.
In contrast to human beings, animals generally have low sensitivity to tear gases. Dogs and horses can therefore be used by police for riot control even when tear gas is used.