Last week, U.S. representatives parted company with Canada and Mexico and announced plans to allow continued use of the pesticide lindane that persists in air and water and has been found at high levels in the Arctic.
Canada plans to eliminate agricultural uses of lindane by the end of 2004 and Mexico plans a full phase out of agricultural, veterinary and pharmaceutical uses of the pesticide.
Representatives from the three countries met in Montreal, Canada Sept. 28-30, 2004 to draft a North American Regional Action Plan (NARAP) for lindane through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America established by the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA).
Public health, indigenous and environmental groups have called for elimination of the pesticide lindane, a neurotoxin banned in 52 countries and restricted in 33 more. Pam Miller, of Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the official Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representative on the task force, called the U.S. position allowing continued use of lindane “downright shameful” urging the U.S. to join the growing movement to eliminate lindane worldwide.
Fifty-eight public health, indigenous and environmental organizations recently sent a joint letter to U.S. agency officials and Task Force members urging elimination of lindane. More than 400 health care professionals in the U.S. sent a similar letter, and more than 800 individuals signed a petition to ban lindane. (See PANUPS Action Alert: Ban Lindane Now! on the PANNA website.)
Environmental groups have also submitted a request to Bayer CropScience to voluntarily withdraw lindane products from the North American market. Bayer recently acquired Gustafson LLC, the primary distributor in the U.S. of lindane seed treatment products.
International treaties on toxic chemicals have also targeted lindane. Included on the Prior Informed Consent list of hazardous chemicals in the Rotterdam Convention, lindane will also likely be one of the top candidates considered for addition to the list of chemicals slated for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Lindane is a known neurotoxin that causes seizures, damages the nervous system, and weakens the immune system. Exposure may also cause cancer and disrupt the human and animal hormone systems. Because lindane is highly persistent and travels globally via air and water, its continued use in agriculture poses an exposure risk to people far from the source. Lindane is now one of the most abundant pesticides in Arctic air, water, and wildlife; northern indigenous peoples consuming traditional diets risk lindane exposures above levels considered safe. Lindane residues have also been reported in a variety of common foods in the U.S.
Pharmaceutical use of lindane also contaminates drinking water sources. The Los Angeles County Sanitation District estimates that one dose of a lindane treatment for head lice can pollute six million gallons of water to levels exceeding drinking water standards. This threat to clean drinking water, and the enormous costs of clean up, prompted California to ban lindane shampoos and lotions in 2002.
Mark Miller, M.D., of the University of California at San Francisco Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, an academic representative to the task force meeting in Montreal said that more effective and less toxic treatments exist for headlice. Children are particularly vulnerable to this chemical that presents a danger to the young nervous system, he added.
The 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Re-registration Eligibility Decision allows lindane to be used as seed treatment for six grain crops: corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye, and sorghum. These seed treatments account for 99 percent of lindane use in the U.S. Up to 233,000 pounds of lindane active ingredient are used annually in the U.S. on seeds.
The draft North American Regional Action Plan for lindane is scheduled to be open for public comment in January 2005.
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)