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Good Question: What’s In Pepper Spray?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The video of a UC-Davis police officer spraying pepper spray in the faces of protesters has outrage many. Now, the officer and his chief are both on administrative leave. So, is pepper spray safe and what’s in it?

“I mean it’s a derivative of actual pepper. It’s a food product essentially,” said Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.

Brooklyn Park Police Inspector Mark Bruley agreed. In fact, on the side of the canister of the Defense Technology MK-9 product it says, “Food Grade Ingredient.”

“It’s cayenne pepper,” said Bruley. “It’s real name is Oleoresin Capsicum, we call it OC.”

But make no mistake — this is powerful stuff. Every rookie cop in Brooklyn Park is sprayed with it, and every year officers are exposed to it, so they know what it’s like, said Bruley.

“It hurts. It feels like you can’t breathe, but you absolutely can breathe, you’re taking in oxygen,” he said.

The Postal Service started using pepper spray, on dogs. It’s only been approved for police since 1992.

“It’s an intermediate weapon. They have to look at it and see, if I use this what would happen,” he explained.

For example: “You go into a bar, a guy’s out of control, wants to fight. You spray him, move him arrest him. that’s what it’s for, a stream, for one person,” said Bruley.

The Scoville scale measures how hot peppers are. The bell pepper is a zero. A jalapeno rates a 3,500. The cayenne can be 50,000 units. Pepper spray is usually around 2 million units, which is 570 times hotter than a jalapeno.

Even though your eyes burn and swell for 30 minutes, researchers have found getting sprayed once doesn’t lead to any vision problems. Pepper spray works by getting into the cells in the outer layer of the cornea, and those cells repair themselves fairly quickly.

However, repeated exposures can lead to permanent damage to the cornea.

Pepper spray manufacturers suggests spraying from at least 6 feet away, and it only works when you spray the eyes, nose or mouth.

“If I spray someone in the chest, they’ll wonder why they’re so wet,” said Bruley.

People with asthma or breathing problems can have adverse effects from being pepper sprayed. There are also some deaths that have been linked to pepper spray, although it’s often difficult to make a direct connection, considering the people who get sprayed are often under the influence of narcotics or alcohol.

So, it may not be the OC that’s the problem. Researchers aren’t sure of the impact of repeated exposure of some of the chemicals used as a propellant to make the pepper spray, spray.

“It is very safe,” said Bruley.

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