FDA Allows Lindane Use to Continue Despite Health Risks and Calls for a Ban

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 3, 2012. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has dened a 2010 petition filed by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN) to ban the insecticide lindane, which is harmful to human health and ineffective in controlling lice and scabies. Pressure had been mounting on FDA to halt the pharmaceutical use of lindane as, in addition to this petition, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, asked FDA to stop the pharmaceutical use of lindane this past summer. Because of FDA’s decision, lindane is still an active ingredient in pharmaceutical insecticide products such as lice shampoos and lotions. Lindane was formerly used in agricultural insecticides until it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on crops in 2006. FDA regulates pharmaceuticals that contain insecticides and pesticides, such as triclosan, that are in cosmetics.

Over 160 countries have signed on to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) thereby agreeing to end their use allowane of lindane by 2014, but the treaty still allows for pharmaceutical use until the existing stocks are depleted. Before this treaty, 50 countries and the state of California had already banned the use of this toxic chemical.

The dangers of lindane are well documented. Lindane is an organochlorine class pesticide, similar in structure to DDT, and a known neurotoxicant and endocrine disruptor. In addition to being a carcinogen, perhaps the most startling health effect associated with the use of lindane is seizures in young children and adults at doses of 1.6 and 45 grams, respectively. Children are clearly more sensitive to the use of this product. That should come as no surprise after a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concluded, “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.” Children are often the ones treated with these chemicals since they are more susceptible to lice then adults. Lindane has been classified by EPA as a class B2/C possible human carcinogen, based on liver and lung tumors in mice. The chemical has been linked to reproductive problems in mice, such as adverse fetal development and body weight. It is also slightly estrogenic to female rodents, and causes the testes of male rats to become atrophied.

The use of lindane can also be harmful to the environment. Lindane is moderately toxic to bird species and pollinators, and is highly persistent in most soils. The chemical moves quickly through soils and water, posing a significant risk of groundwater contamination. A recent study by Elizabeth H. Humphreys and several colleges published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that California’s successful ban on lindane led to cleaner drinking water. According to this study, since the ban on lindane was enacted, levels in waste-water treatment facilities have decreased to almost undetectable levels.

In addition to the human and environmental health risks that lindane presents, it is also ineffective at controlling lice and scabies. Over time, lice and scabies have become resistant to lindane. Results of a recent study from the Miami School of Medicine reveal that even amongst five other harmful chemical head lice shampoo treatments, the lindane-based shampoo was the least effective product. Another Belgium study declared that lindane-based products are “not sufficiently effective to justify their use.”

Beyond Pesticides advocates for the use of non- and least-toxic methods to control for head lice, as these methods have been proven to be both safer and more effective. One of the safest methods to combat lice is to coat one’s hair with oil and carefully pick through the hair with a nit comb. Remember to place the lice in hot soapy water after they have been removed from the hair. Another method is to use hot air, which desiccates the insects and eggs, ultimately killing them. A recent study from the University of Utah found this method outperformed insecticidal shampoos at killing adult lice and their eggs.

For more information on controlling head lice without toxic chemicals, see Beyond Pesticides’ alternatives webpage and our fact sheets on Head Lice and Scabies and Getting Nit Picky about Head Lice.

Sources: PAN press release,  http://www.beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.