There are three major “less-than-lethal” munitions manufacturers in the United States. They provide virtually all the tear gas, “rubber” bullets, beanbag rounds, flashbang grenades, pepper spray, pepperized ammunition, and launching systems (both personal arms and vehicle mounted) to the US government, US law enforcement and many areas around the world.
Defense Technology is a soon-to-be independent subsidiary of Safariland, a conglomerate that will soon focus on body armor, leaving DT to their own devices. DT is located in Casper, WY and has distributes significantly along the west coast. The vast majority of rounds fired in Portland have been branded with Defense Technology logos. Their hand grenade logo is CM inside a square (photos below). Launched canisters are branded as “Spede-Heat” or “Skat Shell.” DT products were also used notably in the DC church photo op.
Combined Systems, Inc. is operated by former Israeli military officers. They set up shop in Jamestown, PA, south of Erie. The town’s population is around six hundred (600) people. With over two hundred (200) employees, they have a stranglehold on the local economy. Ammunition is branded with a stylized CTS logo (Combined Tactical Systems). Combined Systems has a strange and questionable financial history starting with a 2005 buyout from Point Lookout Capital. One look at the Point Lookout Capital website will raise questions. Several Wall Street investors ended funding over the years, unaware of the product lines. It’s probable no illegal financial activity occurred, but they are certainly unscrupulous.
Some CTS pepper spray has been used by US Marshals Service in Portland 2020, and some other locations during the year.
Nonlethal Technology, Inc is a family run business in Homer City, PA. The initial focus of this document is this company. Their products have been used extensively in many South American countries, but the Bahrain Bloody Thursday and continued use during Arab Spring protests put them on the map. They have been the primary manufacturer of munitions fired at Hong Kong protesters. They’re canister branding is brazen, including large font street address and website in blue. The last known-to-me use of Nonlethal Technologies products on US soil was at the Ferguson, MO (Michael Brown) protests in 2014.
So first, some light sciency stuff about tear gas.
Lachrymator is a general term for chemicals that irritate the tear ducts/ eyes /respiratory tracts.
Common lachrymators both currently and formerly used as tear gas include pepper spray (OC gas), PAVA spray (nonivamide), CS gas, CR gas, CN gas (phenacyl chloride), bromoacetone, xylyl bromide and Mace (a branded mixture). All these chemicals also cause skin irritation of some degree up to severe chemical burn, especially with prolonged exposure. Beyond OC gas (hereafter referred to as “pepper spray”) as derived from the natural capsaicin of chili peppers, the rest are synthesized chemicals manufactured in a lab.
Far and away, what we commonly call modern “tear gas” is CS gas, as toxicity of the other chemicals was proven too hazardous, though CN is known as toxic beyond the immediate effects it is still used in Mace brand sprays. Detailed below are some reports on the toxic effects of CS gas in use today, though research on human side-effects is difficult for what should be obvious reasons, but reproductive hormone disruption and miscarriages are reported worldwide. FOIA attempts at getting research data from the US military (one of the few outfits that have conducted widespread research on side effects through training exercises) have been too censored to be useful.
As an aside, Mace was also developed independently in Pittsburgh adding another point to the crown of Western PA as the tear gas capital of the world
Acute immediate toxicity is rare, but asphyxia from tear gas has occurred during the George Floyd protests and multiple reports during the Bahraini uprisings of 2012.
20-year-old Bahraini man dies from impact to head from a tear gas canister
Bahraini Commission report on the uprising casualties which include tear gas miscarriages and stillbirths, and suffocation fatalities. This is a 500 page report, so mind your mobile data caps.
Note, this report disavows roughly 150 deaths saying they were not directly attributable to government activity, but the evidence of excessive and improper tear gas use is confirmed to lead directly to some of the 20 deaths that the oppressive kingdom accepted responsibility for.
But there’s something about reading the data sheet for tear gas and seeing the possible outcome of “Fatal if inhaled.”
If you continue on in the warnings, the environmental effects are more established. Due to the highly reactive nature of tear gas, extreme precautions are demanded to prevent it from entering sewage systems as it can initiate sewer gas explosions. The projectiles also contain heavy metals and other contaminants that affect waterways, wildlife and drinking water. Product protocols listed in the data sheet demand users recover all spent ammunition to prevent contamination or secondary explosions. Photos of discarded canisters are a common sight on twitter and other social media after “riot control” events, indicating that riot control agents do not clean up after themselves, and put the general public at risk well beyond the protest itself.
Tear gas has a shelf life of roughly four (4) years (find link) before it begins to break down. Ammunition is literally stamped with an expiration date (so it ropes law enforcement into continual purchases to maintain stable stock, potentially more likely to deploy ammo before it expires, and/or use expired ammunition. When tear gas breaks down, the primary danger is the release of a combination of cyanide oxide gas and phosgene gas (a chemical weapon on its own) which is highly reactive, highly toxic, and generally fatal.
When CS is metabolized, cyanide can be detected in human tissue.
https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/c/CS_gas.htm --Mcgill University chemistry
OC pepper grenades are sometimes lumped in as a tear gas, though the lingering respiratory effects are not as severe provided it’s a straight capsaicin formula, and not a mixed product like Mace brand or triple threat canisters from CTS, Nonlethal Tech or Defence technology [which includes CN tear gas, DM (Adamsite) aka vomit gas, in some formulations]
CS is a synthetic molecule that is solid at room temperature. It and similar compounds activate a pain and heat receptor in the body, TRPA1, that is similar to TRPV1. CS boils at 310 °C (just under 500F), so canisters like the ones found near St. John’s use a flammable propellant and an ignition system like that found in flares or hand grenades. That’s an extra danger for this type of riot-control agent, Kaszeta says, because the canister and the smoke escaping it are hot enough to cause burns.
Because CS is solid it must also have solvents and propellants to convert it into a gas cloud when disbursed. Methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) is one such solvent that is toxic and frequently used in CS rounds.
Data sheets/list of products
One important thing to know about the calibers is that 37mm rounds were developed because it’s a non-standard size (so lethal and less-than-lethal ammunition couldn’t be mixed up). As a cost-cutting measure, 12ga shotgun size and 40mm (standard underbarrel grenade launcher size) non-lethal ammo began to be manufactured to allow the same guns to be used for both greatly increasing the likelihood for “accidental” use of traditional shells..
Reports of hormone disruption from CS tear gas
Up to date reports of Americans experiencing hormone disruption from tear gas
Anecdotal, but Portland protesters have reported immediate symptoms
Physicians for Human Rights breakdown of physical and mental effects of tear gas and pepper spray
Physicians for Human Rights (1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipients for land mine work) report on hazardous effects on Bahraini women — Nonlethal Technologies, Inc. is directly referenced along with other PA companies
Federal Laboratories (a private company despite the name), a key manufacturer of tear gas and other munitions from the 1930s through the 1990s, and was located in Tunnelton near Saltsburg, PA. This article reminisces about the WWII experience, glossing over deaths at the factory for the “Rosie the Riveter” pride mentality.
Woodruff and Machulsky both said they were able to tolerate the irritating powder used in Federal Labs’ tear gas products.
“I was just sneezing, that’s all,” Machulsky said. But she noted it could take some time getting accustomed to the chemicals: “You cried an hour every morning until you got used to it.”
Said Woodruff, “My sister, Helen, couldn’t take it. She quit right away.”
This Senate hearing in 1934 deals primarily with Federal Laboratories and in attendance is a young Gus Oberdick, then secretary to the president of the company. In addition to the tear gas that would make them infamous, FL also had exclusive export contracts to distribute Thompson sub machine guns, incendiary grenades and TNT bombs in South America and had large sales to in the United States. Of interest is: casual racism, G. Oberdick signing munitions contracts for the company president (as is claimed to be a standard practice of the time) and cash-only deals which a senator lightly questions as attempts to curry political favor in unstable South American countries by Federal Labs. --This transcript is OCRed from original documents and has some scanning errors, but the gist is quite evident.
Further, this excerpted letter dated July, 1934, shows the philosophy of the company from its earliest days as profit over people, and the pride in breaking strikes at US businesses:
July 26, 1934.
To All Federal Export Agents
To those of you who have contributed to this marvelous record we extend our
sincere appreciation and congratulations. We know it has taken a lot of hard
work to get this business, but it has paid dividends.
With conditions of unrest as they are today throughout the world, you have
a real opportunity before you if you will only get back of this thing and push
the Federal program.
Tear gas is fast becoming recognized as the leading and most humane, yet
effective, manner of quelling street riots and mob violence, not only in the
United States but in foreign countries as well.
Be sure to advise your customer that when they use gas to use plenty of it.
We have found from experience that if the police try to disperse a mob with
too little gas, their efforts will not be successful. To toss a couple of grenades
and gas shells into a fighting mob could not be expected to control it. You
have got to give them gas and plenty of it.
During recent months we have had renewed labor disturbances in various
sections of the United States. Here's the way they met the situation : San
Francisco purchased Federal tear gas to the extent of $301,000. Toledo, Ohio,
used up $8,000 worth of gas; the Pittsburgh area (which, as you know, is the
steel center of the world) purchased over $75,000 worth of gas (Federal) to
protect their properties. Youngstown, Ohio, another steel center, bought Federal
gas to the amount of $25,000.
Federal Laboratories, Inc.,
Full text of "Munitions industry : hearings before the Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, United States Senate, Seventy-third [-Seventy-fourth] Congress, pursuant to S. Res. 206, a resolution to make certain investigations concerning the manufacture and sale of arms and other war munitions"
Bloody Thursday was result of Federal Labs employees and their newly developed product of tear gas canister launchers colloquially known as “riot guns.” The products through the 1930s and beyond was developed with the intention of breaking strikes and suppressing labor organizers. A Federal Laboratories employee fired a tear gas grenade into the crowd, fracturing the skull of a protester, killing them.
Federal Laboratories Riot Guns are commonplace throughout the world
British Military infamously used the Riot Gun against Ireland throughout the Troubles.
Federal Laboratories existed as an independent “non-lethal” manufacturer until 1994. Through a series of buyouts and mergers:
In March 1994, TransTechnology sold FedLabs to Mace Security International, which subsequently sold the company in 1998 to Armor Holdings. Armor holdings was in turn acquired by BAE Systems in 2007.
Federal Laboratories was rebranded as Defense Technology and the facility in Tunnelton/ Saltsburg, PA closed in 2002. It operates under the Safariland umbrella. Safariland via Defence Technologies is being used in the United States throughout the George Floyd protests
This buyout and move prompted Federal Laboratories legacy hires James A. Oberdick (Gus Oberdick’s son) to break away with his own son and fellow FL chemist to purchase some FL holdings and create their own company Nonlethal Technologies, Inc. This company persists just outside of Homer City, PA.
By Rosalind Adams
Very informative read:
Sales brochure: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6383202/NLT-Brochure.pdf
a brief history of the company
oppressive and physically painful working conditions
toxic company culture
Poverty level wages ($9.50/hour)
Improvised and jerry-rigged techniques rather than specialized equipment to work with chemicals and explosives
The owner himself was involved in an accident that melted his safety gloves and burned him
Claims of many accidents and incidents going undocumented and unreported
Reviews from employees: no union, no 401k, no drug testing (chemical manufacturers not a cubicle job)
Nonlethal Technologies, Inc.
James A Oberdick
Michael Scott Oberdick
Fires occurred in 2004, 2009, and in 2012 a severe fire destroyed much of the facility and the company now works out of shipping containers instead of actual buildings
Photo: Eric Schmadel|Tribune-Review — local firefighter getting a chemical shower while battling the 2012 fire
OSHA violations resulting from the 2012 fire, and continued violations as recently as 2017/2018
It’s unclear how frequently inspections occur— FoIA requests desired
Facility schematic from the Buzzfeed article: note the shipping containers instead of an actual processing plant
Justification for using tear gas outside theater of war:
Geneva Protocols recognized the direct health effects of CN and CS gas, but also that soldiers on a battlefield would have to endure the gas or disperse and risk the threat of enemy gunfire.
The rationale is that protesters being gassed can easily escape by running away, however police use a technique called Kettling to box protesters in a location they can’t escape from (boxed in a confined block, alley, bridge, ) and then gas them.
I-676 Philly protesters trapped and gassed
Photo from https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/kenney-outlaw-apologize-for-use-of-tear-gas-on-i-676-protesters/2447011/
Another prime example of kettling then gassed
Protesters on Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas
Congressional Human Rights Commission condemns Colombia response
Then the DoD up and approves a Nonlethal Technologies, Inc. contract days later
Rep. Jim McGovern condemning US for selling nonlethal weapons for protest suppression in Hong Kong
No comment on police actions in the United States
Rick Scott (R) Florida Senator - directly calls out Nonlethal Technologies, Inc. for selling to China to oppress Hong Kong
Market forecasting, but too expensive to buy report
Active marketing to Police Bureaus. Remember the US military is prohibited from using tear gas on enemy combatants.
Marketing materials are predisposed to label protests as violent uprisings, justifying excessive and early use
Vehicle mounted launchers can instantly fire excessive amounts and also ignore the SoP of bouncing the canisters off the ground to avoid firing a high velocity canister and hitting someone in the head.
Irony of not even being able to call their products “Non”-lethal
From Philadelphia Inquirer article: Tear gas canister found on Hong Kong street was manufactured in Homer, Pennsylvania by Nonlethal Technologies.
Report of Nonlethal Technologies canisters in Haiti, July 2020
Extra bonus: Article on sonic devices (LRAD) calling them tools of oppression
July 3, CTS grenade used in Portland, OC pepper spray, expired
Blinding injuries analysis with some good video reconstruction and clear evidence that police fired with no immediate threat from the victims who were blinded
Twitter thread by an ecology scientist speculating on tree damage from chemical weapons
Expired CTS pepper spray grenade from Portland protests
A DoJ audit of the Marshal’s Service found in 2018 that there were no inventory controls on tear gas prior, and discovered and recommended the disposal of the expired products. Clearly, this wasn’t done, and expired chemicals were deployed.
CTS tear gas used in Raleigh, May, 30, 2020
Archival twitter thread with videos of tear gas incidents and other police brutality in the US, 2020
Acute exposure guidelines
A field operations manual for riot control through chemical weapons from 1969 (highlights include documented cases of eye loss and impact injury dating back through the 1930s)
Thermal fogger designed for pest control loaded up with crowd control liquid. (both OC pepper spray and CS and CN tear gas can be suspended in an oil based liquid which is easily vaporized and heated to emit gas)