Acid attacks have become so usual in the United Kingdom, that a group of researchers is educating bystanders on how to treat victims before taking them to an emergency room. These kinds of attacks have attackers throwing corrosive liquid into a victim, causing severe burning and sometimes life-long scarring or blindness.
An editorial with the doctors’ recommendations was published online Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.
Acid attacks have been on the rise in London in recent years. The Metropolitan Police in London reports that there were 261 acid attacks in 2015 and 454 last year. Police officials believe numbers will be higher this year.
Gangs have made acid their weapon of choice over guns and knives
Dr. Johann Grundlingh, consultant in emergency medicine at Barts Health NHS Trust in London and co-author of the new editorial, said that acid is an appealing alternative to knives and guns for gang violence because it is unrestricted. People can carry large quantities of acid without a license.
“[Gangs] have picked up on the fact that they can carry around these very devastating weapons without any threat of law enforcement catching up with them unless they’re caught in the act,” said Grundlingh, according to PBS.
The doctor said that the emergency department where he works treats at least one acid attack case per day. The researchers noted that corrosive substances now seem to be a replacement for carrying knives.
According to data from 39 police forces in England and Wales, about 400 of these attacks occurred in the six months up to April this year. In their editorial, the researchers stressed the need for clinicians, law enforcement officers, and lawmakers to find ways to deal with the “latest menace” on their streets.
The acid, which is often sulfuric or hydrochloric, is sometimes purchased online or made at home using online guidance, Grundlingh said. In most attacks, the acid is transported in an acid-resistant squeeze bottle, and it’s sprayed onto the victim’s face at close range. The acid causes the victim to feel burning in the affected areas immediately. Acid attacks can cause mild or severe scarring or blindness.
Copious amounts of water are needed to rinse acid off victim’s face
Grundlingh noted that he’s talked to several victims who are gang members themselves, and they have told him that the intention behind the acid attack is not to kill.
“The purpose is not to kill the other person, but to scar him, to disfigure him, so that he’ll always carry that very visual image of the fact that he’s been targeted, almost like a badge of shame,” explained Grundlingh.
The guidelines issued by him and two other physicians indicate that a victim of an acid attack needs to have the area washed by copious amounts of fresh or saline water. The burnt area can’t be rinsed with dirty water because it can lead to severe infection.
The first-aider must flush the affected area with plenty of cold water (but not too cold) until the victim’s burning sensation starts fading. The process can take between 30 and 45 minutes. They also stressed that no creams or ointments must be applied to the area and that, if possible, after the flushing is over to use sterilized gauze to wrap the affected portion loosely.
Grundlingh said that bystanders mistakenly believe that pouring a half-liter bottle of water over the burn is enough when it’s not. The water is essential because it helps to cool the burn and to wash away any trace of the acid. He noted that how acid rinses off someone’s burnt area makes an enormous difference.
“We’ve seen people who have had highly concentrated acids thrown at them but they washed it off so quickly with a lot of water, that they only really end up with what looks like a bad sunburn,” he noted. “And then you got other people who have had a weaker acid on them, but they didn’t take it that seriously, they didn’t really wash it off effectively, and then they end up with quite severe scarring.”
Acid attack victim asks life sentences for attackers
The House of Commons recently had a meeting to discuss how to tackle these acid attacks that are affecting so many people throughout the country. Some of the legislation that could be approved could include prohibiting people from buying or carrying acid without a license. They are also designing a plan to reduce these attacks.
Andreas Christopheros, an acid attack survivor, left with severe scarring, said last night that the government should impose harder punishments for acid attackers. He suggested that attackers should serve a life sentence, just like their victims.
The Daily Star reports that Christopheros was assaulted in 2014 in a case of mistaken identity. He was at his home and opened the door because he was expecting a courier with Christmas presents, but instead, he was met by a man who threw sulfuric acid on his face. The attacker wrongly believed Christopheros had sexually assaulted a family member.
The attacker was sentenced to life imprisonment, but the sentence was recently shortened to 16 years on appeal, with parole available after eight years.