Since the anti-extradition protests began in Hong Kong three months ago, the city's police force has fired more than 2,000 tear gas canister at protesters, who have geared up with respirators, water bottles, and containers to try to neutralize the gas. Despite their best efforts, protesters, passersby, children, elderly people, and pets have suffered ill-effects from the miasma of tear gas that lingers when police deploy the gas in narrow streets and subway stations in a city of seven million people.
Recent research looking at more than 170 frontline reporters who were exposed to tear gas found that more than 90 percent reported persistent coughing, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood, while others suffered rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, and swollen eyes.
In a recent interview with RFA's Mandarin Service, a young protester who used the pseudonym Tom spoke about the effects of long-term exposure to the gas, which is banned for use against enemy forces in wartime by a number of international treaties:
RFA: What have been the effects of prolonged tear gas exposure from your participation in frontline protests?
Tom: Actually, the main effect on me has been diarrhea. I inhaled tear gas during the June 12 protests, and I had diarrhea for more than two weeks after that. I was getting diarrhea three or four times a day for more than two weeks. It was exhausting, and I even had blood coming out. I have now had diarrhea basically ever since the start of June, after each time that I inhale tear gas. I still have it now.
RFA: What other effects have you experienced from participating in the protests?
Tom: Sometimes if I hear a sudden loud noise just going about my daily life, for example if a car drives over a plastic water bottle as I'm walking down the street, I hear that bang, and it makes me suddenly very anxious.
This is purely the result of hearing gunshots [at the protests]. Even meditation hasn't managed to calm me down, and I have palpitations.
RFA: How do you feel about the protests now?
Tom: We have mobilized so many times and done so much, and yet it still seems as if there is no hope. So there is always a sense of powerlessness. The government does not respond, the police are constantly escalating their use of force.
It feels as if we are all sinking, and society is becoming more and more corrupt. A lot of my fellow protesters are starting to feel exhausted.
I don't know how long this group of Hongkongers can hold out, in terms of body or soul.
RFA: Would you consider giving up protesting?
Tom: I know that I can't stop right now, even more so now, because if I did it would show that I have been frightened by the regime. If I stopped taking to the streets, I would have let down my comrades who might get injured, or arrested.
Right now, we have one belief, which is that we have to keep fighting until we win this. Otherwise we won't have managed to save those people who got arrested fighting for justice.
RFA: How will you recover?
Tom: I hope that we can win this fight and then have a long period of peace, during which we can slowly re-invest in everyday life, a time when we won't have to hear gunshots, and when these days of violence, bloodshed, gunshots and fear will be a thing of the past.
Reported by Tseng Yat-yiu and Lu Xi for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.