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Daily News Archive
From February 10, 2004

New York Proposes Ban On Pesticide Lindane for Lice and Scabies
(Beyond Pesticides, February 10, 2004)
Bill A008628 proposes to amend the public health law to ban the sale, use, and prescription of any product containing the substance commonly known as lindane. Filed for the state of New York, the Bill is written to prohibit any product used for the treatment of lice or scabies in humans from containing the pesticide.

The provision states, "Lindane is the working ingredient in over 2 million prescriptions for shampoos and creams meant to control head lice and scabies and that these prescriptions are issued to children, pregnant women and young mothers."

It finds that the main source of lindane in sewers are from treatment of head lice and scabies, that a single treatment of lindane pollutes 6 million gallons of water, and that lindane has been shown to damage the liver, kidney, nervous and immune systems of laboratory animals. It adds that there are more effective and less toxic ways available for the control of head lice. Also included is reference to lindane as a man-made pesticide that has been categorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic pollutant, meaning that it lingers for a long period in the environment, moves up the food chain and is highly toxic to humans and wildlife.

The action reports lindane as a carcinogen, one that can cause seizures or even death when absorbed through the skin. In the past few years, over 500 cases of adverse impacts from lindane-containing products have been reported.

The National Pediculosis Association (NPA), a non profit agency, directs parents, health care professionals and child care providers to safer head lice control options via a standardized prevention approach focusing on routine screening, early detection and thorough manual removal of lice and nits. The Association promotes this as a rational strategy over chasing lice with pesticides that offer more risk than benefit and have a well-documented history of lice resistance and failure. NPA says prevention isn't just about stopping head lice. It is also about protecting children from unnecessary and potentially harmful exposures to pesticides such as lindane or malathion.

The NPA emphasizes the fact that none of the available chemical treatments are 100% effective, and that manual removal of lice and nits remains the most critical component to successful treatment. Hence the slogan, "If you don't get 'em out, you've still got 'em."

Treatment for scabies is more challenging, as it is often difficult to obtain a definitive diagnostic workup for scabies. The result is guesswork and therapeutic trials, according to the NPA. This has included off-label use of Ivermectin, an antibiotic indicated for cattle worms and those who suffer with River Blindness. Lvermectin for scabies appears too risky given the growing number of adverse event reports related to its use, especially among the elderly where deaths associated with Ivermectin prompted a 1997 warning in the medical literature that it not be used at all.

Yet despite the adverse impact of the pesticide lindane and the availability of better options, the use of lindane-containing shampoos and creams continues to be permitted by prescription.

Research conducted by the Los Angeles County Sanitation District (LACSD) found lindane to be particularly toxic to water. This realization was the impetus for what eventually became California's state-wide ban. Senior engineer Ann Heil was at the helm of the LACSD research effort and found that after use, lindane shampoos and creams and residue rinsed off in the sink or shower made its way through the sewer to a wastewater treatment plant. Since lindane is not removed well in wastewater treatment plants, it passes through to downstream rivers, lakes or the ocean.

LACSD and the NPA received an EPA grant to join forces to educate the community about the hazards of lindane. The project was so successful that the Sanitation District of Los Angeles County, City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, and the National Pediculosis Association were given the nation's most honored pollution prevention award. The program targeted those parties who either treat or provide advice on the treatment of lice and scabies: doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, school nurses, day care centers, hospitals, and correctional institutions.

It was the first major program to convince physicians to change the medications they prescribe based on environmental concerns. Average lindane concentrations dropped 50% in the Long Beach and Burbank outreach areas within the first year. A bill to ban the medical uses of Lindane was passed in the California legislature as a direct result of the Lindane Usage Reduction Project.

The NPA says environmentalists and child advocates alike are elated about New York's lindane Bill, but cautions New Yorkers not to replace one poison with another.

As soon as word of a lindane ban in California became known, industry began positioning malathion (an organophosphate pesticide) as lindane's replacement for the state's formulary. Marketing information for malathion makes it appear that malathion is an acceptable alternative to lindane, although the malathion product's own information sheet has warnings to indicate otherwise.

There are many health and safety problems with malathion according to the National Resources Defense Council. Jennifer Sass, PhD, a senior scientist with NRDC and an expert on the toxicity of malathion has written extensively on the lack of available safety data and malathion's own potential for serious negative effects on human health and the environment.

The New York Bill to ban lindane says the chemical has been shown to be a human carcinogen. Recent case control studies report high rates of childhood brain cancer treated with lindane shampoo. It also cites several reports of six-fold increases non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in farmers exposed to lindane, evidence of carcinogenicity is confirmed by the World Health Organization, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services. The Bill states that lindane is a known blood poison. In many case reports, lindane exposure from recommended dosages has resulted in adverse events such as blood diseases including aplastic anemia and leukemia.

Lindane is well known as a neurotoxin. Treatment with lindane has resulted in vomiting, seizures, brain damage, spontaneous abortion, learning problems and epilepsy. Adverse effects have resulted from recommended dosages of this product.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all pharmaceutical products, lindane included. Only recently did the FDA put a black box warning on lindane. Up until this warning the FDA had taken very little action to inform patients of the acute as well as long-term effects of exposure to lindane.

The Agency For Toxic Substances and Drug Registry ranks lindane 33 out of 275 other substances on its Priority List of Hazardous Substances and the Environmental Protection Agency has severely restricted the use of lindane as an agricultural pesticide due to lindane`s adverse health effects.

For more information on NY Bill A008628 to ban lindane contact, Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg's office (518)455-3042.

TAKE ACTION: Working for pesticide reforms at the state level provides an excellent opportunity to improve public and environmental health and to show that pesticides are in need of heightened regulation at the federal level as well. If you are concerned about use of lindane in your state, contact your state health agency and regional EPA office, and let them know your concerns. Voice your opinion to the U.S. EPA as well by contacting Mr. Micheal Leavitt, EPA Administrator, by email, phone: 202-564-4711, or fax: 202-501-1470. You can use the information from our Lindane ChemWatch fact sheet, Least Toxic Control of Lice, and Getting Nit Picky About Head Lice in your case. Information on alternative scabies management is available at http://www.safe2use.com/pests/scabies/scabies.htm.