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Hong Kong residents living with tear gas worry of effects

FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, file photo, pro-democracy protesters react as police fire tear gas during a protest in Hong Kong. By day, the small commercial kitchen in a Hong Kong industrial building produces snacks. At night, it turns into a secret laboratory assembling a detox kit to help frontline pro-democracy protesters counter ill-effects from repeated exposure to tear gas. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

HONG KONG (AP) — By day, the small commercial kitchen in a Hong Kong industrial building produces snacks. At night, it turns into a secret laboratory assembling a kit for pro-democracy protesters seeking to detox after repeated exposure to tear gas.

Volunteers seated around a kitchen island sort and pack multicolored pills into small resealable bags. At another table, a woman makes turmeric pills by dipping gelatin capsules into a shallow dish of the deep orange spice.

“Police have used so much tear gas and people are suffering,” said the owner of the kitchen, speaking on condition of anonymity because she fears repercussions for her business.

“We want to especially help frontline protesters, who have put their lives on the line for the city.”

Hong Kong police have fired more than 10,000 tear gas canisters to quell violent protests that have rocked the city for six months. The movement’s demands include fully democratic elections and an investigation into police use of force, including tear gas.

Its heavy and prolonged use in Hong Kong — one of the world’s most densely populated cities and known for its concrete jungle of high-rises — is unusual and has sparked health fears.

While there’s no evidence of long-term health effects, it’s also largely untested territory.

“I don’t think there have been circumstances where there has been this level of repeated exposure for people to tear gas. What’s going on in Hong Kong is pretty unprecedented,” said Alistair Hay, a British toxicologist from the University of Leeds.

Police have fired it in cramped residential areas and near hospitals, malls and schools, affecting not only protesters but also children, the elderly and the sick.

Some worry that tear gas residue could stick for days or weeks to asphalt, walls, ventilation ducts and other places. Parents, schools and various community groups have demanded to know the chemical makeup of the gas — which police won’t divulge — so they can clean up properly.

In the absence of official information, some parents have stopped taking their kids to parks, and online tips urge mothers to refrain from breastfeeding for a few hours if they are exposed the gas. Many avoided fresh fruits after a wholesale market that supplies half of the city’s supply was gassed last month.

New daily rituals include using a baking soda solution to bathe, wash clothes and clean surfaces. Tips shared by protesters include not bathing in hot water after exposure as it is believed it will open pores and let the chemicals seep in.

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