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A Journey Backwards : Why you need to care about teargas and beyond

【明報專訊】Since June, 2019, the Hong Kong Police Force has fired over 7,000 rounds of teargas in protest areas near residential districts, elderly homes, kindergartens and empty streets without apparent human activities. While many would blame the increasingly intense protests, equal amount of attention should be paid to the nature of teargas, its user guidelines, as well as its sustained effects on public health. Here is why.

Teargas is classified as a type of chemical weapons by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, therefore precluded in warfare internationally. The convention is the fruit of a longstanding concern over the use of chemical weapons since World War I, which has resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths and more than one million casualties globally. Since chemical weapons often exist in the form of gases and soluble liquids, their effects are indiscriminate and widespread.

Recently, a Hong Kong reporter from Stand News, a digital media outlet, has been diagnosed with chloracne, with symptoms like "rare skin eruption of blackheads, cysts and nodules". The disease has been directly linked to high concentrations of dioxin exposure, according to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Constant exposure to concentrated dioxin has also been associated with cancer, depression and immune system failure. The substance can enter the human body through the skin, food, water, air and other channels, according to Public Health Research Collaborative, a citizen-led research group on public health.

The question is, why is our environment suddenly filled with concentrated dioxin?

A possible explanation is the combustion of CS, a key component of tear gas, which produces dioxin in the process of burning. The higher the temperature, the more dioxin is likely to be released. At the CUHK alone last week, over 1,000 rounds of teargas were deployed. Since then, four dead birds have been found. Many worry that the campus is seriously polluted.

Since dioxin is heavy, it tends to subside and affect those who are shorter in height, namely kids.

If you are worried about the factual accuracy of the above, so am I. As scrupulous as I can be in fact-checking, I lack the specific knowledge about chemicals to understand what has been constantly released into our air and water, just like many of our average citizens. But if dioxin has a sustained and irreversible effect on health potentially, it is a matter of urgency that the Hong Kong Police Force should disclose the ingredients of this kind of chemical weapon and advise the public on its health effect before they continue to use it. In any case, mass deployment of chemical weapons without scrutiny is irresponsible. Releasing teargas in empty streets for no apparent reason is simply unacceptable.

If you have to continue breathing in the city, you have a reason to care.

■Writer's Profile

Mona C. has a strong appetite for stories. Feed her enough.

Email: monafpchu@gmail.com

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