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Tear Gas and Reproductive Health Study 

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was murdered by police. George Floyd’s murder sparked racial justice protests across the United States and the world throughout the summer of 2020. Police used weapons against protestors, including chemical agents called “tear gas” which have been banned in war. These chemical agents were used even though we don’t know very much about how they impact reproductive health.

Some protesters talked about seeing changed in their reproductive health after being exposed to tear gas. These changes included starting their period when they didn’t expect to. After hearing people’s stories, we wanted to create a study to look at how tear gas impacts the reproductive health of people with uteri.

Methods

Between August 2020 and April 2021, we surveyed people with uteri who had been exposed to tear gas during protests. We used email and social media to ask people to be in the study. We asked people if they experienced any changed to their reproductive health after being exposed to tear gas. We asked about how often people were exposed to tear gas. We also asked for information about people’s identities.

Results

Demographics of people in the study:

77% of people in the study were cisgender women

77% of people in the study were white

Nearly ½ of people in the study were ages 23-29

Nearly ½ of people in the study had a yearly family income of less than $25,000.

83% of people in the study saw changes to their reproductive health after being exposed to tear gas

  • 69% had cramping
  • 55% had their period/menstrual bleeding earlier than expected
  • 30% had breast tenderness
  • 19% had their period/menstruation start earlier than expected

In our study we also looked for which factors are related to experiencing changes in reproductive health after tear gas exposure. We found several factors to be associated with seeing changes in reproductive health:

  • If people were exposed to tear gas for more days
  • If people’s period had changed in response to stress in the past
  • Income
  • Hormone use
  • Where people were exposed

These factors were all significantly related to tear gas exposure. This   means the relationship between these factors and experiencing changes after exposure to tear gas could be random chance, but it’s unlikely.

Both people who see changes in their period when they get stressed and those who don’t had changes in their reproductive health after tear gas exposure. But people who do see changes in their period when they get stressed, saw even more changes after tear gas exposure then people who didn’t This might be because these people are more affected by tear gas.

People who use hormones such as birth control or gender-affirming treatment saw more changes to their reproductive health than those who don’t. This is likely because so many people who participated in our study use hormones. It is also possible that people who have very regular periods because they use hormones would be more likely to notice a change.

We can’t say there is direct causation between tear gas exposure and changes in reproductive health because this was not a controlled experiment. There are possible sources of bias including recruiting people from email and social media and self-report bias. We still think this is an important study because we’ve collected nationwide data about tear gas exposure and changes in reproductive health. Our survey also included a lot of questions about people’s reproductive health history to help us better understand this topic.

Conclusion

This study found a link between tear gas exposure and changes in reproductive health. This adds to the list of safety concerns about the use of tear gas on the public. We think more research is needed to fill in scientific gaps. But really, tear gas manufacturers, police and the government need to prove that tear gas is safe. Without showing that tear gas is safe, policymakers should reconsider police use of tear gas.

Asha Hassan, Alison Ojanen-Goldsmith, Anna K. Hing, Madeline Mahoney, Sarah Traxler, Christy M. Boraas

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