Police 'jet pack' solution more powerful than pepper spray or tear gas, says Post photographer hit by all three
A pepper spray-based solution used by police on pro-democracy protesters was "much more powerful" than pepper spray and tear gas, according to a South China Morning Post photographer temporarily blinded by it.
The first-hand testimony contradicts police descriptions of the solution's "mild" chemical effects, as the force remained coy about its new riot control agent.
"I lost my sight for 30 minutes and the solution just wouldn't go away. I even tried washing it out with water," said Sam Tsang Kwok-chung, who was hit by the substance as he covered the operation to clear protesters in Mong Kok on Tuesday.
He added that he was standing about 10 metres from the officer who sprayed him in the face.
"The effect of tear gas only lasts for two to three minutes, but there's nothing you can do with pepper spray solution except wait until it dies down," Tsang said.
"During those 30 minutes, I could only tell vaguely where the light source was and I had to rely on my sense of touch to tell what was around me."
The solution also caused a burning sensation on the skin, he said, and it hurt again when he took a shower as the remnants mixed with water.
The critical ingredient used in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum, a compound commonly found in chilli peppers.
Officially known as "pepper spray-based solution", the police's preferred English translation, the chemical agent was purchased early last year specifically for a massive operation to handle Occupy Central, according to a police source. The Chinese description for the solution is "liquefied tear gas".
It was chosen "because it had a longer effective range, and [when it's used] it's like rain so it can spray a larger area and more people" than ordinary pepper spray, the source said.
The solution and the spray pump, officially known as a "water jet pack", made its debut in Hong Kong on September 28, when police used it to disperse protesters in Admiralty.
Chief Superintendent Steve Hui Chun-tak said the solution was "relatively mild" and its level of force the same as pepper spray.
Hui said police used the liquid solution to lower the mobility of protesters during a confrontation, to create a safe distance between protesters and police, and to minimise the likelihood of injuries.
He did not explain the contents of the solution.