After being under review for nearly 30 years, the pesticide lindane was finally withdrawn by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in agriculture last summer. Called by the EPA "one of the most toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative pesticides ever registered," lindane is still stubbornly being supported by the Food and Drug Administration for use in shampoos and lotions used on children.
While environmental health groups around the country applauded the EPA for the first step in abolishing lindane, these same groups are now calling for a phaseout of the remaining uses of lindane in pharmaceutical products in the U.S. that do more harm than good.
Lindane - also known as gamma hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) and benzane hexachloride (BHC) - is found most commonly in products that treat head and crab (pubic) lice, such as shampoo that kills the lice and their eggs. It is prescribed for use only "after safer medications have failed or have caused side effects," but is still used with alarming frequency.
According to the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), "it is a known neurotoxin that can cause seizures, damage the nervous system, and weaken the immune system. Exposure might also cause cancer and disrupt hormone systems. Since lindane is highly persistent and travels globally through the air and water, its use poses an exposure risk to people far from the source."
This chemical has been banned for use on pets and seeds, but still we continue to allow its use on our children's heads? The FDA must learn to keep our children healthy and safe by not favoring the interests of corporations who continue to profit from sales of products containing this toxic chemical.
Actually, the entire warning that accompanies this product is detailed and shocking, and deserves to be printed in full: "Only use Lindane Shampoo if you have already tried other safer treatments and experienced severe side effects or the treatments did not work. Seizures and death have occurred following repeated or prolonged use of Lindane Shampoo, and rarely after a single use according to the directions. Do not use Lindane Shampoo if you have a history of seizures or certain skin conditions where the skin is irritated or broken (eg, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis) or to treat premature infants.
"Use Lindane Shampoo with extreme caution to treat infants or children, if you are elderly, or if you weigh less than 110 lbs (50kg) because you may be at greater risk of serious nervous system side effects. Follow the directions for using Lindane Shampoo very carefully. You may experience symptoms such as continued itching after using Lindane Shampoo, even if it has worked well. If itching continues, contact your doctor. Do not use more of Lindane Shampoo or use Lindane Shampoo more often than prescribed by your doctor."
Children put at extreme risk by Lindane
An estimated 6-12 million people in the U.S. get lice each year, and a good majority of those are children. Lindane has been used as a topical scabicide and pediculicide for years, and in most cases, acute lindane toxicity is most lethal to the elderly and children typically manifested as grand mal seizures. Lindane is also a significant contaminate in urban sewer systems and can pollute drinking water.
Smaller children also have a larger risk of systematic exposure, but it is still not known whether the developing nervous system of children increases their susceptibility to such toxicity. However, case controlled research does show a significant association between brain tumors in children and the use of lice shampoos containing lindane.
Lindane and its breakdown products persist in the environment, posing a risk to people and wildlife that may be exposed long after the pesticide is applied. All uses of this noxious compound "have already been banned in at least 52 countries, including most recently, Mexico," and its use is restricted or banned in most of Europe. Pharmaceutical uses of lindane for lice and scabies have been banned in California since 2002, and are currently being questioned in legislation for a similar ban in states like Michigan and New York, according to PANNA.
The health dangers of lindane
Not only is lindane highly ineffective, it's also dangerous. According to Wikipedia:
• Lindane is a proven carcinogenic and is cited by the EPA as acutely toxic.
• It is a suspected endocrine disruptor, meaning it disrupts hormones that regulate growth and reproductive health.
• Like other agricultural pesticides, lindane is very easily introduced into the water and food supply of an area through rainfall, and can lead to low-level lindane poisoning throughout the local community
• Lindane is volatile, with roughly 90% entering the atmosphere and ultimately being deposited into rain.
• Lindane should not be kept on the head longer than 4 minutes and should not be covered during this time under any circumstances. Rinse only with warm water - hot water is not safe and is not recommended.
Lindane shampoo acts and can permeate your skin, entering your blood supply and affecting your brain and nervous system. It can cause seizures and death in people who use the product too much or too often, and it also can cause seizures even when used as directed.
Be careful - Lindane Shampoo is also sold under the one-percent formula as Kwell shampoo and lotions (among other brand names) used to treat human scabies infection, head lice and other ectoparasites. The topical preparation has a half-life of approximately 18 hours.
Research scientists "strongly recommend its removal from the market" because of its low efficacy and high toxicity. It may also interact with certain medications. According to a 2003 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62% of U.S. residents sampled carry the insecticide Lindane in their body.
Effective alternatives to fight lice and scabies exist and are readily available, including Vaseline, mayonnaise, or the application of regular shampoos and oils. Even careful combing with a fine-tooth comb specially designed for lice control is a viable option.
If overdose is suspected, call your local poison control center or emergency room immediately. Symptoms of an overdose could include bloody urine, irregular heartbeat, nausea, restlessness, seizures, unsteadiness, or vomiting.