Commonly known as tear gas, the lachrymatory agent is a type of chemical weapon prohibited by various international treaties for use in warfare due to its harmful effects, such as severe eye and respiratory pain, skin irritation, bleeding and even blindness.
Despite its damaging effects, however, tear gas somehow became an accepted tool against the civilian population for “riot control.” As the term “riot” can be loosely interpreted by any establishment to mean any form of civilian assembly, tear gas has been actively used to quell civilian protests and demonstrations worldwide.
This could not be more evident in Hong Kong, where local authorities have fired around 1,000 rounds of tear gas against its own citizens over the course of nine weeks (from June 9 to August 4).
On August 5, when protesters launched a strike that paralyzed the city’s main transport hubs, the police countered with an unforgiving 800 tear gas canisters in just one day, covering nearly every district in Hong Kong.
Many of the protesters have learned to adapt and eventually been able to put out tear gas canisters by dousing the projectiles with water and covering them with objects such as traffic cones, metal dinner plates and wok lids.
However, it is the ordinary residents (the children, elderly as well as pets) caught between activists and riot police, who are left helpless in dealing with the effects of the dangerous substance, according to Quartz.
Oftentimes, residents in the areas where many of the protests take place are often caught unaware by the authorities’ use of tear gas.
It’s also worth pointing out that since tear gas guns do not have a manual setting to adjust the range of fire, there is a large risk for non-targets as an incorrect aim usually sends the capsules away from the actual targets and into the surrounding area.
In late July, riot police fired large amounts of tear gas at a protest staged in the suburban town of Yuen Long, an area with numerous elderly homes.
— singsing (@singsingarsing) July 28, 2019
Despite photo and video evidence indicating that some elderly people were affected by the tear gas attack, the police have claimed that none of them were harmed.
This photo by @LamYikFei is believed to show the elderly home in Yuen Long which was purportedly affected by tear gas fired by police. Police spox said the force had told elderly homes to close windows. But as Lam notes, closed windows are of no use—tear gas entered via AC vents. pic.twitter.com/1ClyQkjSdG
— Mary Hui (@maryhui) July 28, 2019
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong have released a report on a police dispersal operation on July 28 that found that almost all journalists covering the area ended up suffering health implications such as residual respiratory symptoms, skin reactions, eye symptoms and gastrointestinal problems.
A study on some 170 #HongKong journalists who’d covered #AntiELAB protests & taken in tear gas have found that the overwhelming majority of them have suffered from worse stomach problems on #728protests in Sheung Wan than earlier on during the #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/5qS60gsrCB
— Damon Pang (@damon_pang) August 9, 2019
The research team, composed of a practicing doctor and three medical students, noted that the reporters who have been exposed to the substance are yet to experience its “worsening effects.” The indiscriminate use of the substance was described in their reports as a “tear gas buffet” that is not too different from torture. According to the researchers, there’s “no doubt” that the use of tear gas has already placed the health of its citizens in severe danger.
In some reports that surfaced in recent weeks, even pets have been affected by the indiscriminate use of tear gas.
An employee at the City University Veterinary Medical Centre revealed in a recent interview that cats were evacuated from a room after tear gas smoke had sifted through the establishment.
Growing concerns by pet owners have since prompted Hong Kong’s Society for the Protection of Animals to post some guidelines on Facebook on what to do if pets are exposed to tear gas. In the post, pet owners were advised to wash the pet’s eyes immediately with saline and take it to a vet if symptoms such as difficulty breathing and swollen eyes appear.
— Hong Kong World City 🐉☔️ (@HKWORLDCITY) August 5, 2019
At a press conference last week, an official pinned the blame on the protesters.
“We didn’t choose the neighborhoods; it’s the violent protesters who chose,” senior superintendent Kong Wing-Cheung was quoted as saying. “So we’re forced to use tear gas in residential areas.”
Piles of tear gas canisters fired last night in Hong Kong. Protestors collected them and found out a lot of them are expired, which are causing chemical burns on exposed skin for some people. #HongKongProtests #antiELAB pic.twitter.com/BQNkxy0C2s
— Patrizia Man (@zeta825) August 6, 2019
Meanwhile, the Practising Pharmacists Association of Hong Kong has urged the authorities to stop firing tear gas in residential areas, citing public health concerns. The group also sought the help of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to work with the police in setting up clear geographic boundaries for the use of tear gas.
While authorities have been asked on the effects of tear gas exposure on multiple occasions at press conferences, an open dialogue that officially addresses these concerns has yet to properly take place.
Featured Image via YouTube / Global News