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Chemical used on lice banned as pesticide

EPA decision comes after long review; use for head lice, scabies remains authorized

Aug 6, 2006 | Los Angeles Times

A highly toxic pesticide that is one of the last holdouts from the 1950s is being banned in the United States after a long review by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA decided not to renew the registration of lindane, an insecticide used to treat seeds for wheat, corn, oats, rye, barley and sorghum crops. In response, the manufacturers agreed to cease sales in the United States, EPA officials said this past week.

Lindane is a chlorinated pesticide, much like DDT and similar compounds that were outlawed in most of the world in the 1970s; it is already banned in 52 countries.

It does not break down in the environment, so it builds up in food chains and in human bodies, and scatters globally via the oceans and air, reaching as far as people and animals in the Arctic.

For years, environmentalists have sought a ban in the U.S., especially since Mexico and Canada already have acted. The United Nations was considering adding lindane to a global treaty phasing out chemicals considered the world's most hazardous.
Kristin Shafer of Pesticide Action Network North America, an activist group based in San Francisco, said she was "pleased EPA has finally done the right thing."

Jim Jones, director of EPA's pesticide program, said the agency weighed lindane's high toxicity and its persistence in the environment against its "very few benefits for users," since safer alternatives for treating corn, wheat and other grain seeds are available.

"We're making a decision today that I feel very good about," he said. "Most of the uses were deleted a long time ago, and the EPA has taken a number of actions culminating in this one today, where the remaining uses are being voluntarily canceled."
The EPA has acknowledged the hazards of lindane for several years, calling it "quite toxic to humans." It is classified as a possible carcinogen, and in high doses, it damages the human nervous system, liver and immune system.

The only remaining U.S. use of lindane is for prescription shampoos and lotion treatments for head lice and scabies, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, not the EPA. The lindane prescriptions have been banned in California since 2002, and most U.S. doctors no longer prescribe them.

"It's good to the see the U.S. finally stepping up to the plate" on farm use, said Ann Heil, a supervising engineer at the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts who lobbied the Legislature for the state ban on lindane prescriptions. But, she said, "it is baffling why the federal government still allows it to be put on children's heads."

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