On May 25 of this year, George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. As civilians witnessed the scene, many began to film what was happening in front of them, some even pleading for Derek Chauvin, the policeman, to stop. The video, which quickly went viral across the world, showed Chauvin pressing his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck and head. Officer Chauvin held it there for 7 minutes and 46 seconds, despite Floyd repeatedly expressing that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd died at the scene at the hands of a police officer, causing outrage and reigniting the BLM movement.
Since then, protesters across the U.S. and the world have marched, attended vigils, held sit-ins, and demanded justice for the countless Black victims of police brutality and police reform. While most of the protests are peaceful, nonviolent, and some even socially distanced, there have been many that involved police tear-gassing and pepper-spraying people.
Most of the time, it’s unprovoked. Many protesters and bystanders have filmed these scenes and posted them online to further prove their point of unwarranted police brutality. Many of which went viral, including a clip that shows police vehicles driving into peaceful protesters and a New York City protesters holding his arms up in front of the police only to be pepper-sprayed.
Aside from the emotional toll, the physical effects of pepper spray or tear gas are supposedly not long-lasting. Effects include: stinging of the eyes, having trouble breathing, and loss of vision. However, there have been multiple reports of women experiencing abnormalities in their menstrual cycles after being exposed to these chemicals at recent protests.
BLM Protesters Are Being Repeatedly Tear-Gassed
The New York Times reports that, according to Civis Analytics’s database, around 15 to 26 million people in the United States were part of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations (making it the largest movement in the country’s history). Like many of the major cities, Denver, CO, saw some of the biggest and most frequent crowds. Activist, mother, and Property Manager, Janette Akins, was there for pretty much all of them.
Akins found like-minded individuals in the city through a group chat that would update and discuss the movement, helping her keep track of when and where the next protest would be. She attended as many events as she could for 38 days and quite quickly, Akins began to notice irregularities in her menstrual cycle after having multiple periods.
“I’ve had an IUD for two years. I don’t get a menstrual period,” she says. After coming in contact with pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets, however, the next day she experienced cramping and heavy bleeding. The first time she was pepper-sprayed was when she was sitting in a park after curfew. “Unfortunately, I’ve been assaulted so many times that I’m learning to tell the difference between gas, pepper bullets, and spray.”
Akins points out that since she pays attention to her body and well-being, she wondered why this was happening and knew something wasn’t right. “I was connecting the dots,” she says. “It was after I was coming into contact with pepper spray that I was bleeding.”
Finding Links Between Being Tear-Gassed and Menstruation Problems
Her experience isn’t an isolated incident either. Akin’s 15-year-old daughter, who was also in attendance, had the same experience with cramping and bleeding. In another group chat for women protesters in Denver, someone asked if anyone else had noticed a pattern between bleeding and being tear-gassed.
Around 15 others, many of who are on different types of birth control, ranging from IUDs to the pill, and more, report almost identical symptoms. Furthermore, social media has allowed people from different locations, time zones, and protests to compare notes about this too. Twitter user @ChaStewart22 began a thread of similar stories after writing, “I’m a mess…I just started my period AGAIN. That’s the third time since repeatedly [being] heavily exposure[d] to tear gas in the uprisings.”
Not The First Time Tear Gas Has Affected Women’s Reproductive Health
The Geneva Protocol banned any type of “asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gases” to be used in war in 1925. Yet, the police still actively use tear gas and pepper spray on civilians during BLM demonstrations. There isn’t a notable amount of research done into the whole effects of tear gas in the long-term, as well as what it does to female reproductive health. Although there are links, there isn’t enough concrete evidence to prove that there is a direct correlation between this and period issues.
During the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the 1980s, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Chile, Andrei Tchernitchin began testing students that had been tear-gassed.
“We asked students to donate blood to study some hormonal parameters, such as the number of eosinophil leukocytes and, curiously, those leukocytes were degrading with great speed, which could mean alterations of various kinds,” he tells the magazine Punto y Final. He concludes that there was a “probability that chemicals from tear gas can affect reproductive functions” and cause irreversible harm to unborn fetuses and young children.
Researching and Safety Precautions
Despite the lack of evidence and studies, some people in the health care field aren’t completely denying that there isn’t enough cause to not encourage more testing as a result of people suffering from period issues. Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a General Practitioner & Family Doctor at Prescription Doctor, warns that, even though there isn’t sufficient evidence, people should still be precautious at potentially violent BLM demonstrations (as it is a powerful chemical).
The research is limited, but it has suggested that tear gas could cause miscarriages, and it may cause changes in menstruation. Tear gas was created to affect the nerves around the eyes, mouth, and throat, but it could also affect other areas, as it does get inhaled into your body. I would suggest that if you are concerned about these changes, or are pregnant, you stay away from situations that involve tear gas so that you do not have to find out if there are consequences.Dr.Giuseppe
While there isn’t enough concrete evidence to prove that tear gas and other chemical weapons have an adverse effect on female reproductive health there is a slow-growing discussion that should be addressed. Plus, the number of women and people that have periods who have spoken out about irregularities in their menstruation after protesting is alarming and needs to be studied at a greater level. That being said, scientific studies and more research should be done to show just how detrimental being tear-gassed has on mental and physical health.