The police stated they only used smoke canisters and pepper balls, not tear gas, on the crowd. Yet some types of pepper balls, which are paintball-like projectiles filled with chemicals, contain tear gas.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies pepper spray as a type of tear gas.
US Attorney General William Barr, who ordered the park police's actions, incorrectly told CBS's Face The Nation host during an interview that "pepper spray is not a chemical irritant."
PepperBall, a private company that makes products of the same name, advertises that its pepper balls contain "the most effective chemical irritant available."
Last Monday, US Park Police (USPP) officers used smoke canisters and pepper spray to clear a citizens protest against police brutality near St. John's Episcopal Church in Lafayette Park, Washington DC.
US attorney general William Barr ordered the dispersal so President Trump could have his photograph taken at the church. And in an interview with CBS's Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan, which aired Sunday, Barr not only defended the officers' actions, but falsely claimed that the non-lethal weapons they used "were not chemical irritants."
"Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?" Brennan asked Barr.
"Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. It's not chemical," the attorney general responded, later clarifying that pepper balls — paintball-like projectiles filled with chemicals like pepper spray and tear gas — were also used.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Barr's statement is incorrect. The agency said that riot control agents, including pepper spray, are "chemical compound that can temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin."
And PepperBall, the company that makes products of the same name, advertises that its products contain "the most effective chemical irritant available." PepperBall did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
'A proprietary chemical irritant that's proven more effective from even greater distances'
PepperBall, a private company that sells both pepper balls and launchers to law enforcement, offers myriad products on its website. The balls explode on contact, dispersing a choking cloud of chemicals.
The company's "Live" pepper balls contain 5% pelargonic acid vanillylamide (PAVA), a synthetic version of pepper spray. Its CS balls contain 2.5% tear gas, while another ball type contains both irritants.
"Our projectiles are so effective, the term "pepperball" has become synonymous with any non-lethal irritant filled projectile," the company stated on its website. It also markets that its products contain "a proprietary chemical irritant that's proven more effective from even greater distances."
In 2018, the US Army awarded PepperBall a $650,000 contract for the purchase of paintball guns that shot these projectiles, in order to give US forces in Afghanistan the option to disable, rather than kill, potential threats, Popular Mechanics reported.
'Crowd-control weapons known as irritants'
Tear gas, known as "agent CS, or chlorobenzalmalononitrile" and pepper spray, known as "agent OC, or oleoresin capsicum" are acidic substances which are harmful to people's health.
"Both belong to a class of crowd-control weapons known as chemical irritants," Dr. Ranit Mishori, a Georgetown University professor of family medicine, told FactCheck.org.
AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
President Trump and the USPP said that "no tear gas was used" to disperse the Lafayette Park protest (a statement that was later walked back by spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Delgado), and that officers only used smoke canisters and pepper balls against protestors.
Yet the CDC classifies pepper spray as a type of tear gas, and Delgado told FactCheck.org that while the USPP didn't use agent CS, he was "unaware of the brand of pepperball used."
What pepper spray and tear gas do to your body
While tear gas and pepper spray don't typically cause permanent injuries, some people have experienced coughing and chest pains for days and weeks after exposure to the chemicals.
"It's very, very irritating to the upper respiratory passages, and it's going to make people cough and sneeze," Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, previously told Insider.
The two irritants can be especially dangerous for people with asthma and other reactive lung disorders since they can prompt an attack.
In addition to the lung, nose, and eye irritation that the chemical irritants can cause, there is a risk of impalement, and in extreme cases even death, from the containers that the substances are ejected from. One protester recently had his eye taken out by a tear gas canister, and pepper balls, if targeted at a person's face or neck, can also do serious harm.
Bobby Yip / Reuters
When deployed at close range to the eyes, pepper spray can also lead to nerve damage or corneal erosion, while large quantities of tear gas can burn the skin.
Hilary Brueck contributed reporting to this story.
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