By: Michael Cantrell  | As first appeared in

The PepperBall BLAST is just one more way to deliver a payload that will distract, disorient or incapacitate an inmate.

It was in 1999 during a gang fight at USP Leavenworth that I first saw PepperBall deployed. There were more than a dozen different inmate fights on the lower floor of the cell house when two officers with PepperBall systems responded. I was impressed with the combination of sound, PAVA powder and non-lethal impact that quickly sent inmates to their cells for cover.

Innovation has always been a key to the success of PepperBall, and the PepperBall BLAST is just one more way to deliver a payload that will distract, disorient or incapacitate an inmate. The advantages of this handheld, lightweight, refillable launcher make it perfect for every correctional officer’s use of force toolbox.

An ideal short-range solution for law enforcement and corrections, it is effective for up to 10 ft. This lightweight and refillable delivery system is perfect for carrying in a holster on your hip or vest, or in your hand as a member of a cell extraction or CERT team.

Each reloadable BLAST cartridge contains up to three projectiles worth of PAVA powder. When the quick flip safety is turned and depressed, the PAVA powder is pushed out of the tube by a 1.8g N2O cartridge and will quickly cover the inmate and saturate the cell. Since there are no actual projectiles deployed upon firing, this is a truly non-lethal product with no impact.

PAVA (also known as pelargonic acid vanillylamide) is a synthetic capsaicinoid used in PepperBall projectiles for its ability to attach to lighter substances and stay aloft in the air longer. This increases the effectiveness of the PAVA powder when deployed.

Available in INERT (no PAVA) and LIVE-X (5% PAVA) concentrations, the BLAST can be reloaded with new barrels and a 1.8g nitrogen cartridge (N2 allows for use in all temperatures and climates.)


Approximately the size of a mini-mag flashlight, the BLAST is 1.5 ounces and only 6.9 inches long. Its compact size makes it perfect for the lead member of a cell extraction team to carry and deploy as the door opens. Whether using a three-staff or five-staff member cell extraction team, the key to success is the surprise of a blast dispersion powder cloud blocking the inmate’s vision. A LIVE-X BLAST will also deliver the burning sensation of PAVA powder, but an INERT BLAST will create the same overwhelming cloud, causing the inmate to turn away and momentarily lose their focus on the team.

Surprise and speed always favor any cell extraction team. Even when the inmate expects the PepperBall BLAST, the surprise and speed of the blast will cause the inmate to turn away from the blast of powder, giving the team a critical advantage. The BLAST should be aimed at center mass with the PAVA powder saturating the upper chest and mucus areas of the head.


Through the door, hands-on cell extraction is not always the preferred or safest method to remove an inmate from a cell. With a range of 10 feet, the PepperBall BLAST can also be utilized effectively through the food slot or vent to fill the cell with a cloud of LIVE-X PAVA powder. Pointing the BLAST toward the ceiling will cause this powder to stay airborne, causing maximum physiological and psychological effects to the inmate, and encouraging submission to hand restraints without sending any staff through the door.

As with any munition, a tactical pause is important to assess the effectiveness of each deployment. Exposure to PAVA will cause an immediate reaction in the eyes, nose, throat, and chest. If the inmate is still non-compliant, the BLAST can be refilled and redeployed with another no-impact, non-lethal payload.


Carried in a holster on your vest or hip, the PepperBall BLAST is also a reliable close-range response to an attack or other use of force. Its one-handed use allows the officer the advantage of keeping one hand free to deflect attacks, all while deploying a blast of LIVE-X powder with the other. The BLAST leaves a cloud of powder between the officer and the inmate allowing the officer time to get a better reactionary distance or call for assistance.

Another big advantage of PAVA powder is easier decontamination. After using in a cell or on an inmate, there is no need for soaps or scrubbing, just fresh air, and cool, clean water. PAVA powder can also be cleaned up with a wet mop or wet vac filled with a couple of inches of water in the bottom.

The PepperBall BLAST has the portability of an OC canister, but with the surprise and coverage of a blast dispersion munition. The advantages of a hand-held, lightweight, refillable launcher make it perfect for every correctional officer’s use of force toolbox.

About the Author Mike Cantrell: Host of The Prison Officer Podcast, Mike Cantrell has been in corrections for over 28 years. He has recently retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons as the Chief of theOffice of Emergency Preparedness. He is a firearms, less lethal, breaching and disturbance control instructor and has led special response, disturbance control and canine teams over his career.A correctional consultant specializing in the use of force and physical security, Mike is well known as a writer, content creator and speaker on leadership and crisis management

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Michael Cantrell

Published on Jun 26, 2024