Women exposed to tear gas during protests in Seattle are reporting strange symptoms surrounding their menstrual cycles, KUOW-FM reported. Experts say the effects of the substance, designed for use in war and, thus, likely to only affect men, are not fully understood when it comes to women.
Jessi Murray, 32, wasn’t protesting on the night of June 1; she was sitting quietly in her apartment. Meanwhile, eight blocks away, protests were raging. Murray said she could hear the sounds of flash-bang grenades going off, a sound she described as like thunder.
She said the smell of tear gas began wafting its way into her apartment, and her eyes and throat started to sting. To get relief, she closed a window and sat with her dog in front of a fan.
Now months later, Murray is experiencing a symptom she didn’t expect: her menstrual cycle started becoming irregular. Despite using Nexplanon arm implant for birth control, she had three periods in the span of 28 days, beginning two weeks after she was exposed to CS, a type of tear gas deployed against protesters.
“Usually, I either, like, don’t have a cycle or it’s been really long. It just struck me as weird that I had these kind of quick periods in a row,” she said.
She’s not alone. Dozens of Seattle-area women told the news affiliate that they’ve experienced menstrual symptoms as well since police in the city began deploying tear gas. Those symptoms include having several periods in short amounts of time, heavy bleeding, painful cramps, and menstruating for the first time after a gender transition.
Dr. Emily Norland, a gynecologist with Seattle’s Polyclinic, said that there has been little-to-no research on the effects of chemical agents like tear gas on women, for a simple reason.
“The reason why there is no data about this is that these chemicals started out as agents of war and were studied — if at all — in a male population,” she said.
Dr. Lora Shahine, a Seattle-based fertility doctor, echoed concerns that police in her city may be deploying a dangerous chemical agent while its effects aren’t fully understood.
“Especially in the United States, chemicals are considered safe until proven not safe. We should really rethink these chemicals because we haven’t studied them in humans. So how do we know that they’re safe?” she said.
However, she also noted that there are other variables at play in Seattle women’s lives that could affect their menstrual cycle, such as stress related to the protests or the pandemic, or job loss.