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.
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).
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.
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.
Resources for chemical-free lice treatment
- NPA's Ten Tips for Head Lice and Nit Removal
- NPA's Ten Tips for Head Lice Prevention
- Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet - Least Toxic Head Lice & Scabies Control
- Sierra Club Canada Fact Sheet - PDF file
Research & Chemical Factsheets
- ASTDR Toxicological Factsheet and Toxicological Profile for Lindane
- EXTOXNET Lindane Pesticide Information Profile.
- PAN Pesticide Database
- Beyond Pesticides Lindane Fact Sheet
Lindane: Answers to Common Questions
- Lindane Risk Assessment Factsheet. U.S. EPA
- Lindane Reregistration Eligibility Decision Addendum. U.S. EPA
- Revised Assessment of Risk from Use of Lindane for Treatment of Lice and Scabies. U.S. EPA.
- Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report II: Sources, Occurence, Trends, & Pathways in the Physical Enviornment.
- CDC Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.
- Report - Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in our Bodies and Corporate Accountability
Report - Lindane's Dirty Secret: Indian Facilities Dump Toxic Waste
- Girl Dies After Eating Small Amount of Lindane Ant Powder, April 2002
- Lindane and Chocolate, August 2001
- Of Lice and Libel , Detroit Metro Times. August 23, 2006.
- Fatality After a Single Dermal Application of Lindane Lotion, Environmental & Occupational Health. 2007.