October 20, 2000
In early September, California's Governor Gray Davis signed a bill prohibiting the sale or use of the pesticide lindane for treatment of lice and scabies. The bill will take effect in California on January 1, 2002. Between 1972 and 1994, use of lindane to treat lice and scabies in U.S. children resulted in 88 reported cases of neurotoxicity and six deaths. The National Pediculosis (headlice) Association recently established a database to track "adverse event" reports related to use of lindane to treat headlice in the United States. In the first 24 months, more than 500 events were reported.
Lindane is one of the few notorious DDT-style chlorinated pesticides to
remain in widespread use in both industrialized and developing countries. It has
been on PAN International's list of Dirty Dozen pesticides since 1985. Officials
in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are considering a plan to "reduce
or eliminate" use of the pesticide in the North America region, and European officials recently banned lindane's use in agriculture and garden products.
Documented health effects of exposure to the pesticide include hormone disruption, dizziness, seizures, nervous system damage, immune system damage and birth defects. Lindane is also a suspected carcinogen with possible links to breast cancer incidence, and has been found in breast milk and blood samples throughout the world.
The economic costs of addressing lindane's environmental contamination are tremendous. In pressing for the California ban for public health uses, the L.A. County Sanitation Districts estimated the average cost to clean up lindane contamination at $250,000 per ounce, or $4,000 for the lindane rinsed from a single head lice treatment. Based on the federal benchmark of allowable lindane contamination (19 parts per trillion), a single use of lindane shampoo contaminates six million gallons of water, and the total lindane rinsed into California's water system each year contaminates five trillion gallons.
In addition to control of lice and scabies with medicated lotions and
shampoos, common uses of lindane include seed and wood treatment and
insecticidal spray for a number of food crops. In many countries, lindane is
also available for home use for control of fleas, ticks, ants and other
insects. While lindane use continues in both industrialized and developing regions, all uses have been banned in at least 34 countries and at least 28 additional countries have severely restricted its use.
In early 1999, a confidential EU report recommending the immediate withdrawal
of lindane from the market was leaked to European pesticide activists. The
report, produced and circulated to EU members by the Austrian Ministry of
Agriculture, pointed to the lack of crucial health and
environmental data on lindane which was not collected before its approval in the 1940s and is still not available. A lack of adequate data on carcinogenicity was cited as a particular concern, especially given emerging evidence of rising breast cancer rates in areas of the United Kingdom (UK) where lindane use is very high.
In response to this report and to continued pressure from European activists,
the EU's Standing Committee on Plant Health voted in July of this year to ban
most uses of lindane in Europe. The ban, which will come into effect in 12-18
months, covers all agricultural and gardening applications
of lindane. Use in domestic products such as ant killer will continue to be allowed.
According to a 1997 report from the Northern Contaminants Program, lindane
and its isomers are found more often than any other organochlorine in the Arctic
atmosphere and marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments. Lindane is not,
however, on the initial list of 12 persistent organic
pollutants (POPs) slated for global elimination under the international treaty to control POPs. This despite the fact that the pesticide easily meets the POPs criteria of persistence, bioaccumulation, long range transport and toxicity.
If the North America region develops an effective and aggressive Regional
Action Plan to complement the ban of most uses in Europe, momentum will be
strong for a worldwide ban of lindane. The POPs elimination treaty, which is
scheduled to be signed by 120 or more countries early next year, could provide
the vehicle for a global lindane ban. Groups around the world
involved in the International POPs Elimination Network are working hard to ensure that the treaty is designed to allow the timely addition of pesticides such as lindane to the list of chemicals slated for global elimination.
Sources: "Going, Going, Gone? Lindane Moves Closer to Elimination," Global Pesticide Campaigner, August 2000.
Contacts: PANNA, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, email:
firstname.lastname@example.org; PAN-UK, web site: http://www.pan-uk.org, and the
International POPs Elimination Network, web site: http://www.ipen.org.
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