(Beyond Pesticides, May 16, 2008) Pressured by environmental organizations to protect children’s health and water quality in the Great Lakes, the Michigan House of Representatives has approved restrictions on the use of lindane, a toxic organochlorine pesticide used as a prescription drug to treat lice and scabies. Under the legislation (HB 4569), the use of lindane would be prohibited except “under the supervision of a physician in his or her office if the physician considers the use of that product necessary for the treatment of a patient’s lice or scabies.” The Michigan Senate has not yet voted on the bill.
Lindane has long been known for its neurotoxic properties, causing seizures, damage to the nervous system, and weakening of the immune system. It is also a probable carcinogen and endocrine disruptor. When used on people, lindane is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite the fact that it has been banned in 52 countries and restricted in over 30 more, FDA continues to allow its use in the U.S., albeit with a Public Health Advisory issued in 2003 that states, “Lindane should be used with caution in infants, children, the elderly, patients with skin conditions, and patients with low body weight (less than 110 lbs).”
Until 2006, when lindane was voluntarily withdrawn from all agricultural uses, it was registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on ornamental plants and as a soil and seed treatment. Because of the large amounts of lindane used, and its ability to bioaccumulate, high levels of lindane are found in the arctic (far from the area of use) in whales, other predators, and people.
In 2002, California banned pharmaceutical use of lindane when high levels of this treatment for head lice and scabies were found to be impacting wastewater quality. According to the Los Angeles County Sanitation District, one use of lindane shampoo contaminates six million gallons of water (at the EPA threshold of 19 parts per trillion). A study in 2007 reported that the elimination of pharmaceutical lindane in California produced environmental benefits (reduced presence in wastewater), was associated with a reduction in reported unintentional exposures and did not adversely affect head lice and scabies treatment, thus setting the stage for other states such as Michigan to take action against lindane.
Not only is lindane toxic, it is also increasingly less effective against the treatment of lice. For non-toxic alternatives in the treatment of lice, see the alternatives fact sheets on the Beyond Pesticides website.