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Indigenous and environmental health advocates from the U.S., Mexico and Canada testified in San Diego, California today, in front of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in support of eliminating lindane, a pesticide that persists in air and water and has been found at high levels in the Arctic. The Commission designated a task force in 2002 to reduce exposure to lindane, but so far the U.S. government has blocked a continent-wide ban.
Advocates hosted a “Lindane Lunch” for government officials attending the San Diego CEC meeting, serving traditional and common foods known to be contaminated by the toxic pesticide lindane. On the menu were salmon, halibut, and muktuk (whale meat) from Alaska—all important in the traditional diet of Arctic peoples—as well as common foods that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found contaminated by lindane such as pickles, mixed nuts, chocolate chip cookies and wheat bread. Human breastmilk, found to contain lindane in studies around the world, was also on display.
“ We wanted to offer the government officials a taste of our concern,” explained Shawna Larson from the Indigenous Environmental Network who traveled from Alaska to San Diego to highlight the effects of lindane on Arctic peoples. “The task force’s decisions have a real impact on our food and way of life in the Arctic, where lindane is the most abundant pesticide found in our air and water.”
Indigenous peoples of the north who rely on traditional diets of marine mammals and fish are particularly at risk from lindane exposure through foods. In 1997, the Northern Contaminants Program estimated 15 to 20 percent of Inuit women on southern Baffin Island are exposed to dangerous levels of lindane in their daily diet. But everyone on the planet also faces health risks from lindane residues. An average local diet in any region of the world was found in 2003 to include 3.8 to 12 times the "Allowable Daily Intake" of lindane set under Codex Alimentarius, the United Nations system of food standards.
Lindane can cause seizures and damage to the nervous system, and can weaken the immune system. Case-controlled research shows a significant association between brain tumors in children and the use of lindane-containing lice shampoos. The insecticide is also a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor.
In 2004 Mexico committed to phase out all uses of lindane, and Canada instituted a phase out of lindane for all agricultural uses. However, the U.S. continues seed treatment uses of lindane for corn, wheat and a handful of other grains. In an average year, 142,000 pounds of lindane are applied to seeds in the U.S. Lindane is also use to control head lice and scabies in the U.S. and Canada.
“U.S government inaction and industry influence have kept lindane on the market here for far too long,” said Kristin Schafer with Pesticide Action Network North America. “Fifty-two countries have already banned this toxic pesticide, it is time for the U.S. to join the club. ”
Lindane is also a significant contaminant in urban sewer systems and can pollute sources of drinking water. The Los Angeles County Sanitation District estimates that one dose of lindane shampoo used as a treatment for head lice contaminates six million gallons of water. This threat to clean drinking water, and the enormous costs of clean up, prompted California to ban lindane shampoos and lotions in 2002.
The Commission on Environmental Cooperation, established under the environmental side-agreement to the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), agreed in 2002 to target lindane for regional action in North America under the Sound Management of Chemicals (SMOC) Initiative. The SMOC working group has already developed North America Regional Action Plans for DDT, chlordane, mercury and PCB.
Lindane is listed on the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list, and is restricted under the international protocol on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). The pesticide is also a candidate for addition to the list of chemicals targeted for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which will hold its first official meeting in Uruguay in the first week of May 2005.
Organizations hosting the Lindane Lunch and sending representatives to testify before the commission include: from Canada; Sierra Club, Canada; from Mexico, Consejo Regional Otomi Del Alto Lerma, and Huicholes y Plaguicidas; and from the U.S.; Indigenous Environmental Network, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Natural Resources Defense Council, and PANNA.
Sources: Press Release, PANNA, March 16, 2005, Ban Lindane Now, Lindane, Fact Sheet, PANNA, March 2005, Too Toxic for Pets, But not for Children, PANUPS, Lindane, Going, Going, Gone, Lindane Moves closer to Elimination, Global Pesticide Campaigner, Dec, 2003, PANNA, http://www.panna.org; Lindane RED Facts, US EPA, September 2002, http://www.epa.gov/REDs/factsheets/lindane_fs.htm.Contact: PANNA.