Human Rights Social Crisis

Caustic Soda Found in Water Cannons Used During Protests

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SANTIAGO – The Resistance Health Movement (MSR) asserts that liquid used by police water trucks contained caustic soda. The MSR says water samples were examined after several demonstrators complained they suffered burns from being sprayed by the water trucks. After release of the MSR report, the police general director said the liquid composition “followed international standards.”

On Dec. 16, the Resistance Health Movement (MSR) released a report that says liquid used by the Carabineros de Chile (Chile’s national police force) to dissuade demonstrators was not just water. Instead, according to the report, it contained highly irritating elements, including capsaicin (pepper spray’s main component) and caustic soda, which the MSR notes was “a highly corrosive compound at direct contact, and off all legal norms regarding anti-riot elements.”

According to the report, the tested sample liquids from police water trucks (aka “guanacos,” named after the camelid by the same name that spits when threatened) contained both capsaicin and caustic soda in considerably high concentrations, making them the “main [additive] components.”

The “water,” which was used against demonstrators by police water trucks, also contained elements with pH levels of 12 (on a scale of 1-14). This means they are “potentially lethal and able to cause severe damage upon skin and eye contact, or upon accidental ingestion,” the MSR says.

The MSR is a volunteer organization of about 400 students and workers from the health and legal professions, who have been helping demonstrators throughout the social unrest.

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Police Under the Microscope

Carabineros General Director Mario Rozas responded to the issue, saying that the liquids used by police water trucks are “dissuasive elements that are manufactured following international standards,” as reported by La Tercera

He also defended the use of such liquids saying that with respect to the injuries generated to some people, “everything depends on the person … But what we use is what is on the market and internationally validated by studies.”

In an interview by Archi, and posted by Cooperativa, President Sebastián Piñera also referred to the issue and said, “We are investigating this issue and if the protocol was not followed, we will correct it immediately … Water protocols allow adding some chemicals, but not more than 2%.”

Burn Complaints

The investigation was initiated after the Medical College received several complaints from demonstrators, who reportedly suffered skin burns after being sprayed by police water trucks.

According to news outlet T13, the Senate Human Rights Commission had already expressed concern over the issue, while Central Post Burn Service surgeon Roberto Machiavello said that the unit created a special protocol for these incidents. “Chemical burns are severe, because chemical agents tend to stay [in the body]. If it affects a child or an elder, they can become fatal,” Machiavello told T13.

According to the MSR study, liquid samples were collected Nov. 20 and 22, and were then analyzed through three different alkaloid detection methods (Dragendorff, Mayer, and Wagner tests)—all of them reaching the same result.

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