Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Experts fear unknown CS spray risks
CS spray was introduced in the UK about three years ago
People with a range of health problems could be adversely affected by CS spray, according to an independent report.
The report, commissioned by the Department of Health, says there is no concrete evidence of health concerns, but that may be because there has been no thorough research into its effects or any follow-up studies of people who have come into contact with it.
It confirms the fears of mental health charities such as Mind, which have called for the use of the spray on mentally illy people to be suspended until it is proved to be safe.
The committees on Toxicity, Mutagenicity and Carcinogenicity, however, stopped short of calling for suspension of the spray, but outlined concerns for people with health problems such as high blood pressure, asthma and mental illness.
CS spray is used by police to temporarily disable potential attackers.
It causes the eyes and nose to stream, respiratory problems, can affect the skin and increases blood pressure.
The report said it is unclear whether it interacts with the strong psychiatric drugs taken by some people with mental illness.
However, it found no evidence to back fears that a solvent in the spray could damage unborn babies or cause deformities.
But it said it was impossible to dismiss concerns about cancer because of a lack of hard research data.
Only three police forces in the UK - Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Sussex - do not use it - all because of concerns over its health effects.
Mental health charities have also expressed concerns about it and new guidelines on using the spray on the mentally ill are expected shortly.
And the annual Police Complaints Authority report, published in July, said some officers were firing it at closer than the recommended three-foot minimum range.
The PCA received over 100 complaints last year about this.
The new report says that lack of information about its effects means it is vital that police officers obey recommended guidelines.
The Home Office welcomed the report, saying it showed there was "no reason to prevent the police service from using CS spray".
Home Office minister Charles Clarke said: "The Home Secretary strongly believes, on the basis of this report, that CS should continue to be used."
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) also backed the findings, saying it gave officers another option in the fight against crime.
The government says CS spray has played a part in reducing assaults on police officers by a fifth between 1997 and 1998.
ACPO says it is working with the Police Scientific Development Branch on a "second generation" incapacitant.
Mental health charity Mind said it had been calling for research into the health effects of CS spray "for ages".
Policy officer Jenny Willmot told News Online: "We welcome the fact that the report confirms our concerns, but if this was a medical drug there would be years of testing before it was used on humans.
"CS spray has not been tested. It seems the Home Office will carry on testing it on people in the streets and in their homes."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health (DoH) said it was "very likely" joint Home Office/DoH funding for concrete research into the possible health effects of CS spray would be announced shortly.
This will probably be carried out by an indepedent commission such as the Committee on Toxicity.