(Beyond Pesticides, June 12, 2012) Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has asked the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to halt the use of the insecticide lindane in pharmaceutical treatments for head lice in children. Despite research on its toxicity and ineffectiveness, FDA continues to allow lindane to be used in prescription shampoos and lotions to treat cases of lice and scabies, overwhelmingly on children. Rep. Markeyâ€™s letter to the FDA can be found here.
Lindane has been found to cause skin irritation, seizures, and, in rare instances, even death. Infants and children are especially sensitive to the health risks posed by pesticides such as lindane because of their developing bodies. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined that lindane could cause cancer in humans, and the EPA cancelled all pesticide registrations for agricultural uses of lindane in 2006 because of its toxicity to humans and persistence in the environment. It was banned in California in 2000 because of high levels of water contamination. Following the ban, water contamination drastically declined, and an increase in head lice cases was not reported. A 2002 study that compared efficacy of five available products on head lice found that lindane was the least effective of all the products.
â€śIn the case of lindane, the cure is worse than disease,â€ť said Rep. Markey. â€śThere is not a nit of scientific evidence to support the FDAâ€™s decision to continue to allow the use of this toxic chemical for treatment used predominantly on children.â€ť
Rep. Markeyâ€™s letter also notes that the presence of lindane in treatment products has led to its detection in and contamination of waterways. Officials in Los Angeles found that a single treatment for head lice or scabies contains enough lindane to bring six million gallons of water above the California water quality standard. The pharmaceutical use of lindane was banned in California in 2002. And in 2009, more than 160 nations agreed to ban the agricultural use of lindane.
Rep. Markeyâ€™s letter to FDA asks for responses to questions that include:
â€˘ Why is this compound still allowed for use on children even after the FDA noted that lindane is especially harmful to this segment of the population?
â€˘ Has the FDA taken into consideration the long-term chronic impacts that lindane exposure may have on children?
â€˘ Has the FDA evaluated the increased resistance that head lice and scabies have developed to lindane treatment?
â€˘ If FDA determined that approval of lindane as a treatment for head lice and scabies was no longer warranted because of safety and efficacy concerns, what immediate actions could FDA take to halt the use of lindane and to ensure the public is protected from this dangerous chemical?
Head lice affect an estimated 12 million people in the U.S. each year, and are rapidly becoming resistant to over-the-counter and prescription medications. According to researchers on alternative lice treatments, one method for eliminating head lice that will not lead to resistant strains of lice is the use of hot air, which desiccates the insects and eggs, thus killing them.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.