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Lindane has been banned for all uses in more than 50 countries. The U.S. is now the only country in North America (and one of the only industrialized countries worldwide) that continues to allow agricultural use. Canada phased out agricultural uses at the end of 2004, and Mexico has agreed to phase out all uses of lindane by the end of 2005.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows lindane use for seed treatment on six grain crops, where the majority is applied to corn and wheat. Bayer CropScience became the primary distributor of lindane seed treatment products in 2004, when it acquired a seed treatment company called Gustafson LLC.
Lindane is an organochlorine insecticide, a class of pesticides that has largely been phased out in the U.S. All of the pesticides targeted for global elimination under the POPs Treaty are organochlorines, as these chemicals tend to persist in the environment, build up in the food chain, and travel across national borders on wind and air currents.
Continued U.S. agricultural use of lindane contributes to the buildup of lindane in the Arctic region, where it is among the most commonly found contaminants in the environment and threatens the traditional foods and health of indigenous peoples in the region. Lindane and its breakdown products are also found in blood testing of the general population. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control reported lindane in 62% of the subjects sampled, with the highest body burden levels among women of childbearing age.
In the U.S. and Canada lindane is also used to control head lice and scabies, despite research linking it with increased risk of brain tumors in children. Children are particularly vulnerable to lindane's toxic effects, including seizures and damage to the nervous and immune systems. Lindane is also a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor. When lindane is used in head lice shampoos it can contaminate urban sewer systems and pollute sources of drinking water. California banned lindane shampoos and lotions in 2002, and similar legislation is pending in New York and Illinois.
While lindane is not among the chemicals currently targeted under the POPs Treaty, it is widely considered a top candidate for addition to the list for international phase-out. The first meeting of the Stockholm Convention in Uruguay will set in place the process for adding new chemicals under the treaty, and governments will be putting forward candidate chemicals such as lindane for initial discussions.
The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), a global network of grassroots environmental and health groups, is conducting a number of actions around Earth Day to highlight the promises of the Stockholm Convention and pressure governments to move quickly to implement this important treaty. The U.S. has signed the Stockholm Convention, but has not yet joined the 97 countries that have ratified the treaty. The U.S. will not be an official participant in the Uruguay meeting.
Action: Join the Earth Day call to eliminate lindane from our bodies and the environment. See the Act Now section at http://www.panna.org for information on how to contact Bayer CropScience on April 21.