A senior government official in Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government claimed on Wednesday that smoke emanating from barbeques is more toxic than tear gas used by security forces against the city’s pro-democracy demonstrators.
The remarks were made by Welfare Secretary Law Chi-Kwong, who was asked in the city’s legislative chamber on Wednesday by Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung if authorities have conducted any assessments to find out if extensive use of tear gas could damage people’s long-term health.
Law responded by saying that the case only causes mild respiratory difficulties and skin irritation.
He added that protesters burning plastic barriers, garbage, and roadside railings would have been one of the biggest causes of the rise of toxic dioxins in the city’s air recently, saying:
For the dioxins resulting from tear gas, I think it has been found from the literature that it is minimal or even nonexistent. In fact, when compared with dioxins resulting from our barbecue activities, I think the level is indeed very minimal.
Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan, told the legislature the Environmental Protection Department had also concluded that “teargas does not cause any significant increase in the PM concentration in the area,” referring to the measurement of dangerous dioxins known as particulate matter.
Security forces have fired around 10,000 of tear gas against protesters since the outbreak of civil unrest in June, raising concerns that those affected may not just include participants but members of the public going out their daily lives, whether that be in school’s, elderly care homes, hospitals, and or even their own homes.
One group voicing their concerns is the Hong Kong Mothers group, which last week revealed it had received 1,188 complaints about children as young as two months old experiencing symptoms from tear gas including skin allergies and coughing.
In October, a rally against the use of tear gas and other powerful weapons was broken up by that very method, with many people having to be treated by paramedics. Just this weekend, a large rally was cut short after police used tear gas to disperse protesters.
Sometimes referred to as CS Gas, tear gas is used around the world as a riot control method, that despite causing severe irritation is generally understood to be non-lethal. Yet several countries, including Hong Kong’s former owner Great Britain, have even suspended the sale of the chemical over fears it is being used excessively and causing various health risks.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tear gas remains a potent chemical weapon that can damage pregnancies and the reproductive system, weaken the immune system, and also increase the chances of contracting cancer. However, the government has responded by claiming the chemical composition of the tear gas cannot be revealed due to police operational reasons.