Pepper spray has become the Kim Kardashian of chemical agents: Irritating to mostly everyone who encounters it, it has nevertheless become ubiquitous in the press due to its omnipresence in real life. And just like Kim (and her clan), its overuse has even inspired an online opposition movement.
But what do you know about pepper spray and its effects? Did you know, for example, that the spray used by police officers is much more intense than the anti-mugger spray sold in stores? (It is!) Do you know how it works, and what sorts of health risks it poses? (From ouchy eyes to death!) Would you like to see a hot pepper-shaped chart showing where pepper spray ranks in burn-tensity compared to various other hot substances? (Way up at the top!)To help you become more familiar with this peppery, pain-inducing substance, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and University of Wisconsin journalism professor Deborah Blum has posted a concise, informative pepper spray guide on her website Speakeasy Science that is a bit more digestible than other, older write-ups on the stuff.
Perhaps the most urgent tidbit in Blum's post is this: "Pepper spray ... induces a burning sensation in the eyes in part by damaging cells in the outer layer of the cornea," she writes. "Usually, the body repairs this kind of injury fairly neatly. But with repeated exposures, studies find, there can be permanent damage to the cornea." Protesters are advised to wear goggles—preferably Kardashian Collection models. (Rumor has it that Kim Kardashian's coming out with her very own protest-inspired pepper spray-fragrance called "Searing," which will become available in early 2012.)