Hundreds of people reported in a new study that they experienced abnormal menstrual cycles just after exposure to police-fired tear gas at racial justice protests last summer.
The findings call into question claims that the chemical weapon has only minor and temporary effects on the health of people who are exposed.
Kaiser Permanente Northwest conducted an online survey of more 2,200 people who attended demonstrations last year in Portland. The survey asked people to share their experiences after being exposed to tear gas between July 30 and August 20.
"It's really important to understand that not only are more people having these issues, but they were not minor. They were major enough that people needed to work with health professionals."
—Britta Torgrimson-Ojerio, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research
The survey was conducted shortly after Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that 26 people between the ages of 17 and 43 experienced large blood clots during their menstrual periods and "cramps that felt like sharp rocks" days after being exposed to tear gas.
"This isn't a coincidence. Something's going on," said one person interviewed by OPB last summer; the new research bolsters the claims of those who took part in the report.
More than half of the people who took Kaiser Permanente's survey and who identified themselves as female, transgender men, genderqueer, or who did noy specify their sex or gender, described menstrual irregularity.
More than 36% of those respondents reported intense cramping, including pain that required visits to urgent care clinics or the emergency room in some cases, while 27.8% reported irregular spotting and 23.6% had increased bleeding. Nearly 19% reported abnormally long menstrual periods.
Britta Torgrimson-Ojerio, a nurse researcher at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and the lead author of the new study, noted on social media that in addition to changes in menstruation, more than 72% of respondents reported psychological symptoms after tear gas exposure, and more than 54% of those who had health issues sought or intended to seek medical attention.
— Britta Torgrimson-Ojerio, PhD, RN (@BrittaOjerio) April 27, 2021
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"There's a commonly held belief that the chemical agents that are used for crowd control一and we're referring to them as tear gas一cause just short-term sensory impairment...and that these things dissipate really quickly,” Torgrimson-Ojerio told The Oregonian/OregonLive. "It's really important to understand that not only are more people having these issues, but they were not minor. They were major enough that people needed to work with health professionals."
Research regarding the effects of tear gas on people's health has been limited, as the majority of data comes from studies done on animals and young men in military settings in the middle of the 20th century—not on people who menstruate.
"Tear gas is used increasingly on civilians, yet here we are, it took until 2021 for this study," tweeted journalist Lisa Song.
Mind-boggling that this is the *first* published, peer-reviewed study to confirm a link between teargas and abnormal menstruation.
Tear gas is used increasingly on civilians, yet here we are, it took until 2021 for this study. https://t.co/jpAMNk9KrR
— Lisa Song (@lisalsong) April 29, 2021
The research team led by Torgrimson-Ojerio also detected a "dose response," with people who were exposed to tear gas more frequently reporting more significant changes in their menstrual cycles.
Because the study was conducted via an anonymous, voluntary survey, Torgrimson-Ojerio called for more research into the effects of tear gas on women and others who menstruate.
"This is a really important call to action in the research community for people to investigate this further,” she said.