Tear Gas and the Unborn

by Ashley Chilek


This past summer the killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans, has sparked protests across the U.S. in response to police violence and other forms of systemic injustice. In order to break up these protests, police in several cities have armed themselves with a variety of equipment: riot gear, less-lethal bullets, and, extremely controversially, tear gas.


Tear gas is a chemical weapon that has been prohibited from international warfare since 1925, when the Geneva Gas Protocol was initiated to avoid the human rights atrocities that occurred during World War I. However, it remains legal for law enforcement officials in the United States to use it on citizens. The gas targets the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin of those it comes in contact with. The use of this gas during a global pandemic caused by a virus that targets the lungs is irresponsible and ethically unsound on its own, but there are additional issues with tear gas that put another group of people at risk: the unborn.


In 2011, Chile suspended the use of tear gas against protestors. Why? A study at the University of Chile found that tear gas may be linked to miscarriages, making it a teratogen, a substance that can cause birth defects and spontaneous abortions. A similar study performed on civilians in Turkey documented a correlation between tear gas usage and miscarriage reports in the affected areas. There is also evidence that it may be mutagenic, according to the World Health Organization.


Despite the evidence that tear gas may be harming the most vulnerable among us and international regulations against its use in war, the United States government continues to allow its application against the ordinary citizen. The increasing militarization of the police in has endangered yet another sector of humanity.


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