Lindane

Lindane is an antiquated and toxic pesticide that was once used extensively worldwide. Despite a recent global ban on its agricultural use, the pesticide, a potent neurotoxin, is still used in shampoos and lotions in the U.S. to control headlice and scabies. California banned these pharmaceutical uses in 2001, and similar legislation is moving forward in Michigan.

Today, metabolites of the DDT-era pesticide are routinely found in human bodies. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal a lindane component, beta-HCH, in the blood of 62% of people tested. Infants are exposed through the placenta and breastmilk, and lindane residue contaminates common foods such as rice and potatoes.

Human Health Harms

Lindane's body burden is a significant concern given its effects on human health — especially the nervous system. Human exposure to lindane is linked to a number of health impacts:

  • Neurological Effects:  Humans exposed accidentally to high levels of lindane have experienced seizures, convulsions, vertigo, and abnormal EEG patterns (ATSDR).
  • Cancer: Lindane is associated with elevated risks of non Hodgkin's lymphoma, liver, and breast cancer (ATSDR). California's Proposition 65 lists lindane as a chemical known to cause cancer. 
  • Endocrine Disruption: Lindane has been reported to interfere the hormone levels of human males exposed to the insecticide (ATSDR). In labratory studies, lindane mimicks estrogen in female rats and mice (Beyond Pesticides Factsheet).
  • Reproductive Effects: Pregnant women who miscarried or had pre-term babies had higher levels of lindane as well as other organochlorine pesticides in their blood.  Lindane is also linked to reduced sperm counts, and decreased ovulation in animal studies (ATSDR).
  • Immunological Effects: Lindane is thought to impact the human immune system. Workers exposed to lindane experienced increased levels of antibodies in their blood (ATSDR).
  • Liver Toxicity:  Exposure to lindane is linked to increased levels of liver enzymes, increased liver weight and liver toxicity (ATSDR).

Environmental Contamination

Lindane is an organochlorine, a class of pesticides that are notorious for their toxicity, mobility, and persistence in the environment. The persistent chemical shows up more often than any other pesticide in the Arctic, contaminating traditional foods of indigenous communities in the region.

Lindane Alternatives

Alternatives are available and in use around the world for both agricultural and pharmaceutical uses of lindane. A 2009 report from the International POPs Elimination Network presents specific alternatives for common uses of lindane around the world.

Scientists report that lindane is currently among the least effective means to control lice and scabies. California's 2001 ban of lindane's pharmaceutical products has resulted in cleaner water and less risk to children from exposure to the chemical, with viable alternatives effectively controlling lice and scabies outbreaks, according to a recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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