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Portland protesters are reporting women’s health problems from tear gas: What’s going on?

Two months of protests have turned downtown Portland, Oregon, into a nightly fog of tear gas. Now problematic health reports are emerging from women.

Portland protesters are reporting women’s health problems from tear gas: What’s going on?
Federal law enforcement dispense tear gas as they confront demonstrators during a night of protest against racial injustice, police brutality, and the deployment of federal troops to U.S. cities on July 29, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. [Photo: Alisha Jucevic/AFP via Getty Images]

Two months of protests have turned downtown Portland, Oregon, into a nightly fog of tear gas. Now problematic health reports are emerging from women.

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What happened?

A number of women who were exposed to tear gas are reporting health problems. Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) interviewed 26 women ages 17-43, all of whom reported menstrual irregularities. “All said what they were experiencing was abnormal for their bodies, and all believed the tear gas, which law enforcement has been using against demonstrators for two months, was at fault,” according to the report.

What are they reporting?

Totally abnormal uterine events, including multiple periods in one cycle, large blood clots, and debilitating cramps. One woman, a 26-year-old preschool teacher, said that if she inhaled large amounts of the gas at night, she’d have her period the next morning. A number of threads on the topic emerged on Twitter. These reports are all anecdotal, and not scientifically vetted data, but are attracting scientific attention.

Does tear gas cause hormonal or reproductive problems?

No existing research directly connects tear gas to menstrual problems, though tear gas expert Sven Eric Jordt, an associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine, told OPB that it is quite possible that tear gas alters hormone levels. An investigation by Marie Claire found that tear gas has been anecdotally linked with reproductive health problems, including dozens of stillbirths, dating back to at least the 1980s.

What else does tear gas do?

Tear gas has long been known to cause respiratory symptoms that can remain for some people for at least a month. Last month 1,300 medical and public health professionals signed a letter that asked police to stop using tear gas and similar agents, which may “increase risk for Covid-19 by making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection.”

Is anyone studying this?

Heck yes. Survey studies are currently underway by Planned Parenthood North Central States, which is actively looking for survey participants. Another survey by Kaiser Permanente was recently closed. Stay tuned.

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