A Hong Kong protester was recently captured on video neutralizing a tear gas canister with his thermos. The clip, which has become widespread across social media platforms, has baffled the internet.
Since tear gas is known the world over as one of the most dreaded weapons in crowd control, the idea of simply defusing it as shown in the video has captured the imagination of many.
In recent weeks, many of the protesters have been able to put out tear gas canisters using a variety of techniques. Some have tried dousing the projectiles with water, while others covered them with objects such as traffic cones, metal dinner plates and wok lids.
But the tactic used by the protester in the viral video was something else. He was shown plucking a smoking tear gas canister from the ground and then dropping it into a thermos. He then seals the lid, shakes it and then released the canister out soon after. Impressively, gone was the smoke and all that was left was a pile of dark grey sludge.
Speculation soon erupted on social media on how the protester managed to neutralize such a potentially harmful chemical weapon. Some suggested that the protester might have used water to douse it somehow. Others, however, were confident that it took some liquid nitrogen to stop the tear gas canister from blowing more smoke.
I and others saw this and sent it out saying this badass protester used liquid nitrogen to disable the canister of tear gas.
That information is incorrect, it is apparently just mud, which is good news because that’s a whole lot easier to come by.
— Joshua Potash 🆘 (@JoshuaPotash) September 3, 2019
Meanwhile, a Twitter user claimed that the protester in the video revealed to him that the container had nothing but mud inside it. But could it really be that simple?
In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Duke University toxicologist/pain pharmacologist Sven Eric Jordt gave insight on how this could be possible.
Explaining what a tear gas canister actually contains, Jordt noted that it is not too different from what you might find in fireworks.
The chemical composition is nearly identical. According to Wired, the charcoal inside the canister immediately burns when ignited. At this time, chemical compounds such as potassium nitrate and potassium chlorate produce oxygen that then fuels the fire. With the aid of potassium nitrate, its charcoal burns faster. Plumes of potassium chloride gas are then created as the potassium chlorate begins to break down.
Other substances such as silicon, magnesium carbonate and sugar are added to each serve a particular purpose. The sucrose in sugar burns at low temperatures and helps convert another ingredient into noxious fumes. This is the chemical compound called 2-Chlorobenzalmalononitrile, or CS, which when heated creates the signature burning agent that is attributed to inflicting the most damage. A flammable compound called Nitrocellulose binds all these components together in the canister.
According to Jordt, considering the composition of the contents of a tear gas canister, the mud would actually be able to diffuse it.
“It would extinguish the burning components, block the oxygen supply of the cartridge, and plug openings where aerosol comes out,” he was quoted as saying.
Jordt said it could not have been water as the video itself would show it.
“It looks like a powder came out with the charge. If there was water in there, you would see water coming out,” he noted.
He also explained why it could not have been liquid nitrogen in the container, as it would produce a lot of fog coming out of the container. He did admit though that it will be able to “massively cool down the charge and stop the chemical reaction.”
Jordt also suggested that other means could have been used. He pointed out that it was also possible that the charge got extinguished “just by putting it into the thermos. It’s hard to say.”
Featured Image via Twitter / Joshua Potash