Neurotoxic Symptoms In Chemical Warfare Casualties at Seattle WTO Meeting Kirk James Murphy, MD

Seattle, Dec 7 1999 — Direct Action Network Medical Collective members provided first aid and other care for thousands of casualties of chemical warfare during the Seattle WTO protests. Collective members identified a subset of casualties with symptoms consistent with exposure to neurotoxins which disrupt acetylcholine. Irritant agents do not explain the symptoms.

The Direct Action Network Medical Collective was organized to provide first aid and other health services to activists and others (onlookers, media, residents, and anyone else requesting assistance) in Seattle for the WTO meeting last week. The Collective members rovided care for literally hundreds of chemical warfare casualties on both November 30 and December 1; hundreds more have requested information and treatment in subsequent days. As one may imagine, Collective members have acquired extensive expertise in the recognitio and treatment of symptoms arising from exposure to pepper spray (OC) and "tear gases" (CS and CN).

Individuals exposed to chemical weapons in the late afternoon and evening of December 1st at two locations downtown blocks adjacent to Pike Place Market and the Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill evinced and reported a pattern of symptoms which is inconsistent with the pattern of symptoms which may be ascribed to irritating agents. This "atypical" pattern of symptoms includes the rapid onset of:

  • mydriasis (pupillary dilation) with resultant impairment of visual acuity;
  • tachycardia (rapid heart rate) with some palpitations;
  • new-onset hypertension (high blood pressure) in one individual;
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (persisting for days after exposure);
  • abrupt or immediate onset of menstruation (asynchronous with usual menstrual cycle);
  • muscular fasciculation (twitches);
  • muscular dyscoordination;
  • lethargy, confusion, disorientation, diminished concentration, nocturnal hallucinations.

Moreover, some casualties reported an abrupt experience of loss of muscular tone and strength that sometimes (but not always) immediately preceded a loss of consciousness; one observer of these affected individuals reported uncontrolled, spasmodic movements in those affected.

Some individuals exposed in the Pike Place Market area reported that the aforementioned symptoms came immediately after exposure to a non-irritating agent which was did not cause pain, lacrimation, or burning on mucous membranes.

At least one individual complaining of fasciculations and cognitive impairment days after exposure reported resolution of both symptoms for a duration of approximately five to six hours within twenty to thirty minutes after treatment with 10 mg of the specific antidote dicyclomine (Bentyl) — an anticholinergic medication which crosses the blood-brain barrier and hence can relieve central nervous symptoms of excessive cholinergic activity as well as relieving peripheral symptoms of the same etiology.

The pattern of symptoms is not consistent with known mechanisms of action of the irritant chemical weapons OC, CS, or CN. The pattern, however, is consistent with disruption of neurotransmitter activity. Lamentably, the single most compelling explanation for the observed findings is the (deliberate or accidental) inclusion of "incapacitating agents" which disrupt neuronal function in the chemical munitions discharged by law enforcement agencies in Seattle during the WTO protest.

While direct cholinergic effects or indirect (inhibition of acetylcholinesterase) effects arising from synergistic combinations (of OC, CS, and CN) cannot be ruled out at this time, the experience and observations Medical Collective members, together with the aforementioned information, appears to most robustly support the hypothesis that the casualties described above resulted from exposure to cholinesterase inhibitors used as chemical weapons in crowd control.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on December 4 that the Seattle Police Department had to replenish its chemical weapons stocks by going to outside sources. Various individuals have reported being told by individual law enforcement officers that chemical weapons in addition to OC, CS, and CN were deployed by various entities; these anecdotal accounts are not yet confirmed.

Any information regarding the use of chemical munitions in addition to OC, CS or CN, as well as information regarding the discharge of chemical weapons by agencies other than the Seattle Police Department would be helpful.

Available Internet information from presumably authoritative (eg, DOD) sources describes "nerve gases" as lethal agents. While the casualties described above — fortunately — have not included fatalities, the apparent pattern of excessive cholinergic activity and the fact that "incapacitating agents" is the term of art for a subset of chemical weapons used in crowd control suggests that the term "nerve gas" may be a suboptimal descriptive term. "Incapacitating agents" or "neurotoxic agents" may be more precise ways of describing chemical munitions with the effects described above.

If you were exposed to chemical weapons during the WTO protests and have the pattern of "atypical" symptoms discussed below, please make a written, signed, and dated account of your exposure, including details such as the (approximate) location in which you were exposed and the date and part of the day (morning, midday, afternoon, evening) of your exposure, as well as the nature of your symptoms. Please send such accounts to the email above and to the ACLU unit investigating law enforcement actions in Seattle during the WTO protests.

Collection of discharged chemical weapons munitions is proceeding apace at this time. Collection of serum samples from affected individuals will probably be organized over the next 48 hours. Assay of garments (and other materials) exposed to the chemical warfare agents on individuals demonstrating the aforementioned pattern of symptoms is also contemplated. If you have canisters or other chemical munitions containers discharged during the WTO protest, please contact the above email address for information about how to forward these containers for chemical analysis

[NOTE: Canisters of "CS" or "CN" (tear gas) or "OC" (Oleoresin Capsaiscum) are not needed — we know they were used. The containers to be sent for chemical analysis would only be those without the above markings or those with markings consistent with the use of other agents.]

Your comments are invited and desired. Obviously, the escalation of chemical weapons used in "crowd control" to include even non-lethal neurotoxins is an exceedingly grave prospect: the qualitative leap from irritant agents (OC, CS, CN) to agents which disrupt neuronal function is truly an appalling prospect. This communication is intended to ensure the fullest possible discussion and consideration of the events and mechanisms described above.

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