If you’ve been up on Epsom Downs or in any of the boroughs parks recently, you may have spotted quantities of small, metallic bulbs littering the ground, sometimes accompanied by deflated balloons.
Councillor Barry Nash, Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Committee, said “With so many people recently benefiting from our open green spaces to exercise and having contact with the natural world during lockdown, I’m saddened that a minority have no respect for others or for nature”.
The small metallic gas canisters contained nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas or hippy crack.
Nitrous oxide has many legitimate uses including in the food industry as an aerator, as a medication to numb pain and in the motor industry to make engines more efficient.
It is also one of the fastest growing illegal highs being used in the UK, particularly by young people.
Due to its legitimate uses, many think it is legal. However in 2016, the Psychoactive Substances Act made it illegal to supply nitrous oxide for human consumption.
The colourless gas is sometimes transferred from the canister into a balloon and then inhaled, with the empty vessels thrown to the ground. As well as leaving unattractive litter, this antisocial habit can have a devastating impact on wildlife and the environment.
Councillor Barry Nash added “The balloons especially can be mistaken for food by mammals and birds with horrible consequences. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming”.
The canisters, which are made of steel, are being collected for recycling.
While taking the gas is not in itself illegal, the council are in discussions with Surrey Police about how to address the associated antisocial behaviour. Parents are urged to discuss the subject with their teenage children as the inhalation of the gas can be harmful.
The risks associated with nitrous oxide use are both immediate and long-term and can lead to nerve damage, paralysis, or in extreme cases, death.
The Frank website (www.talktofrank.com) features the risks of taking laughing gas:
If you take too much nitrous oxide you risk falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen. People have died this way.
Other risks include:
- Dizziness, which might make you act carelessly or dangerously.
- Heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and to a form of anaemia. Severe B12 deficiency can lead to serious nerve damage, causing tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes. This can be very painful and make walking difficult.
- Regular use can stop you forming white blood cells properly.
- It can be hard to judge the amount to use safely. If you have too much you can end up fainting, having an accident or worse.