FDA misses chance to pull neurotoxic pesticide from children's shampoos and lotions

Without federal action, effort to restrict lindane moves to the states

Despite decades of scientific evidence, encouragement by legislators, advocacy by environmental and health groups and bans in California and other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced at the end of November that it will allow the continued use of a neurotoxic pesticide in shampoos and lotions used predominantly on children.

Lindane, a persistent pesticide once extensively used worldwide, was withdrawn for agricultural uses in the U.S. in 2006, and targeted for global phase-out under an international treaty by more than 160 nations in 2009. Yet the chemical has remained in lice and scabies products in this country.

"The FDA put children's health second by failing to ban lindane," said Medha Chandra, international campaign coordinator at the Pesticide Action Network. "The announcement marks the triumph of pesticide industry pressure over science, and fails to put safer products on our shelves."

The Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health (MNCEH) and the Ecology Center, which were among the groups that petitioned the FDA to ban lindane, have worked to reduce the use of lindane in Michigan and to pass state restrictions on it.

Late last year, Sen. Rick Jones, Republican from Grand Ledge, introduced a bill in the Michigan Senate to require that any use of lindane be administered in a doctor's office under the supervision of a physician.

"When the federal government fails to act, it is the responsibility of the Michigan legislature to take steps to protect its citizens, and Senator Jones's bill would go a long way to protect children," said Alexis Blizman, legislative and policy director at the Ecology Center and MNCEH. "There are only a few weeks left in this session, and we believe the legislature must act now on this bill.  Michigan's children should not continue to be put at risk because of inaction."

California banned pharmaceutical uses of lindane in 2001, and earlier this summer, Massachusetts Rep. Edward J. Markey urged the FDA to take immediate action on the chemical.

Two years ago, 10 environmental organizations, including the Ecology Center, petitioned the FDA supporting a ban.

"Increasingly pesticides like lindane, even in very small amounts, are linked to a wide range of adverse impacts on children's health," said Dr. Mark Miller, director of the pediatric environmental health specialty unit at the University of California-San Francisco. "The options for lice and scabies control shouldn't include this neurotoxic pesticide."  

Lindane can have significant effects on human health--including children--and is not recommended by the Michigan Department of Community Health.  According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to high levels of lindane can cause seizures, convulsions and abnormal EEG patterns. California also lists lindane as a Proposition 65 chemical known to cause cancer.

The evidence against the chemical has only grown in recent years. Dr. Miller's research has found that California's ban on lindane resulted in reducing levels of lindane in the wastewater system, while still retaining viable alternatives for controlling lice and scabies outbreaks. And several studies have documented the declining effectiveness of the treatment in some regions.

"We can't remove every potentially harmful chemical exposure from a child's life, making it imperative to remove those that we can," said Deborah Altschuler, president and co-founder of the National Pediculosis Association. The NPA first testified against lindane at FDA hearings in 1983 and 1984, and developed an online resource center at lindane.org.

EcoLink — December 2012
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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