Is tear gas in Hong Kong making polluted city take a toxic turn?

Until recently, Hong Kong was a safe and vibrant city, although our air quality has often been criticised by local and international media. Sadly, the city has now become dangerous and even more polluted due to political conflict and the subsequent shocking incidents.
Might it have been different if the authorities had reacted positively to the over 1 million people who marched against the extradition bill, and those who voiced their professional opinions peacefully, in the early stages of the social unrest?
The civil unrest could have reduced the carbon footprint of this Asian shopping paradise, as fewer people went out to dine and shop. But there must be better ways for the city to tackle climate change.
Earlier this month, over 11,000 scientists from 153 countries united to describe the global situation now as a “climate emergency”. Despite this, neither businesses nor the public in Hong Kong can focus on climate change and other environmental protection issues while so many are struggling simply to get to work or to sustain their businesses.
Over the last five months, Hongkongers have experienced a disorienting psychological evolution, from hopeful to hopeless, as the city moved from peaceful marches to escalating violence.
Repeated use of tear gas by police in almost every district of this densely populated city has exposed many ordinary people in shopping malls, residential estates, universities, homes for the elderly and even kindergartens to a complex mix of harmful chemicals. This raises deep concerns with regard to public health.
These chemicals can cause severe reactions and have potentially long-term health impacts on those who have been exposed to them, especially young children, the pregnant and the elderly.
Recently, there has been concern over the possible formation of dioxin, a known cancer-causing substance, due to the firing of tear gas.
To help the public minimise the potential health risks, the Food and Health Bureau and the Environment Bureau should advise the public about the types and extent of health hazards resulting from the exposure to such chemicals and recommend effective methods to remedy any residual effects of short-term and long-term exposure to them.
Protecting the public from health risks is the duty of every government. After all, no matter whether Hong Kong moves forward or not in terms of democracy, all of us need a city with clean air, clean water and low carbon emissions.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director of The Green Earth
31 October 2019 SCMP