What Will Be the Effects of the Tear Gas in Ferguson? A Duke Faculty Member Explains

Sven-Eric Jordt (middle, with his lab team) is a noted expert on the effects of tear gas.
Sven-Eric Jordt (middle, with his lab team) is a noted expert on the effects of tear gas.

In the days following the use of tear gas in Ferguson, Mo., several news outlets sought out Sven-Eric Jordt, associate professor of anesthesiology who has studied the effects of tear gas for nearly a decade.

“I thought it was important to provide scientific and health insights into the action of tear gas, and also showcase the pioneering research performed at Duke to investigate tear gas health effects and identify treatments,” Jordt said.

In his interview with New York Magazine, Jordt said the short-term effects of tear gas are clear, and include, “intense pain in the eyes that cause secretion of tears in the eyes and mucous in the airways.” He also told USA Today that, “…many people feel tear gas can be suffocating. It produces a drowning feeling that your airways are filled up with liquid."

But while the short-term effects are known, the long-term effects are still unclear. In an article published by Marketplace.org, Jordt said, “It [tear gas] can be dangerous for children, the elderly and people with breathing problems, but its general effects aren’t conclusively known.”

In his interview with New York Magazine, he explained:

The issue is it’s usually a small number of people who are exposed and affected. It would require a massive effort to follow these exposure victims over years or decades. But there are now efforts under way by doctors in Turkey to start long-term studies of exposure victims. They have patients in Istanbul they have been following over the last two years, and have shown some data at meetings I’ve attended in the U.S. on the effects on the respiratory system in the lungs of people who have been exposed. People basically had asthma-like conditions, or signs of chemical lung injury, that were very clear.

With the research he has both conducted and seen, Jordt told Vox.com that, "I'm very concerned about the increased use, and the much laxer attitude we've developed towards the potential health effects.”

Jordt and his colleagues are studying whether the main chemical in modern tear gas, a compound called 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, has longer lasting effects on the body. It is his hope that, “the [recent] coverage will increase awareness.”

“It is great to get recognition and add a certain level of rigor to the discussion on tear gas use that is obviously very emotional and political," he said. "Presenting Duke’s research portfolio right after joining the institution was a plus too.”

Below, an interview Jordt did with MSNBC’s "Melissa Harris-Perry" (follows short commercial).