A protester walks through clouds of tear gas while holding an umbrella near the Tsim Sha Tsui police station in Hong Kong on August 3, 2019. Photo: Anthony Wallace / AFP

The Hong Kong Police Force has refused to say whether officers fired expired tear gas at protesters during recent clearance operations. However, medical experts have warned that it poses a threat to the health of those exposed regardless of the date of manufacture.

Chang Yee-man, the president of the Practising Pharmacists Association, said on Thursday that the situation had become a public health issue. The association has received more than 100 inquiries about the effects of tear gas in the last two months.

Chang said the number of inquiries has been increasing since police fired tear gas canisters around residential areas to disperse protesters. She urged the government to study its public health impact before deploying it against demonstrations in the future.

The police force fired at least 1,800 rounds of tear gas over the past two months during operations to disperse protesters gathered on the city’s streets.

As clashes between the protesters and police escalated in various districts, police officers frequently fired tear gas in residential areas, including Kowloon’s Wong Tai Sin and Sham Shui Po, which are home to high-density residential buildings with many sub-divided flats.

A large number of spent tear gas canisters found onsite had passed their expiry dated, according to photos being circulated online. There is growing public concern over the possible harmful impact on the health of those exposed during protests, especially passersby, elderly people, pregnant women and children.

Tear gas canisters found at protest sites appear to show that they had passed their expiry date when they were deployed.
Photo: Facebook

However, since the suspected expired tear-gas canisters were found two weeks ago, the police force has refused to comment on whether they have ever used expired tear gas or if it was aware of potential harmful effects.

Kong Wing-cheung, senior superintendent of the force’s pubic relations branch, said on Thursday that officers had followed the manufacturer’s instructions.

Ng Lok-chun, senior superintendent (operations) of the Hong Kong Island region, refused to answer questions on Friday, saying he did not have information on hand regarding the harmful effects, but he refused to guarantee that officers would not deploy expired tear gas in future protests.

Members of an ethnic-minority family in Wong Tin Sin endure the effects of police tear gas on Monday. 

Alfred Wong Yam Hong, a cardiologist at Tuen Mun Hospital and member of the Médecins Inspirés professional group, said medics at his hospital treated patients who had been exposed to tear gas for second-degree skin burns. Others suffered from diarrhea and vomiting and even coughed up blood, Apple Daily reported.

A poll conducted by a doctor has found that some 170 reporters who have been on the front line covering recent protests have reported stomach and skin problems due to their exposure to tear gas, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

The reporters filled in online questionnaires for the study led by district councilor and doctor Kwong Po-yin with the help of medical students and human rights activists.

Meanwhile, a group of anonymous protesters at the second Citizens’ Press Conference, which was organized by members of the local Reddit-like online forum and Telegram, invited the police to demonstrate their anti-riot weapons to show what happens to people when they are hit by sponge bullets, bean bags, rubber bullets or tear gas fired at close range.

During a press conference held by citizens on Thursday, police were urged to hold a tear gas and rubber bullets demonstration.
Photo: RTHK

They mocked the police force’s efforts to justify the arrest of a student union leader for having laser pointers and offered tongue-in-cheek praise for officers’ attempts to use scientific methods to back their claims.

Keith Fong, president of the Baptist University Student Union, was released unconditionally on Thursday night, two days after his arrest on suspicion of possessing offensive weapons while carrying 10 laser pointers.

Amnesty International earlier called on the US, UK, Germany, France and other countries to stop supplying crowd control equipment to Hong Kong.

Also read: Beijing accused of sneaking police into HK

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