Lice Treatment Under Scrutiny
A group of experts will study the effects on human health of four toxic
chemicals, including the widely used lice treatment lindane, to consider
their potential inclusion on a list of products banned under the Stockholm
Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay, May 6 (IPS) - The creation of this study panel
was among the final decisions adopted at the 1st Conference of Parties to
the Stockholm Convention, which ended Friday in the Uruguayan resort town of
Punta del Este.
At the urging of environmental organisations, a number of governments and
the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the government delegates
attending the conference resolved to set up a research committee responsible
for analysing products that could be added to the list of 12 toxic
pollutants, known as the - dirty dozen”, already prohibited by the
Norway proposed the inclusion of pentabromodiphenyl ether (penta-BDE), a
flame retardant, the European Union wants to add the pesticide chlordecone
and hexabromobiphenyl (Hexa-BB), another flame retardant, while Mexico has
suggested including a group of pesticides known as hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCH),
which include lindane, commonly used to treat head lice and scabies.
The announcement was made at the end of the Conference by UNEP Executive
Director Klaus Toepfer, who was accompanied by Uruguayan Environment
Minister Mariano Arana and the acting executive secretary of the Stockholm
Convention, Canadian John Buccini.
The process of analysing the four substances proposed for inclusion on the
POPs blacklist will take at least three years, according to Buccini. The
research group will be based in Geneva, where the Stockholm Convention
international headquarters is located.
Although lindane is most frequently used on children infected with head
lice, its use is already prohibited in at least 52 countries and severely
restricted in another 33, activists from the International POPs Elimination
Network (IPEN) told IPS.
Like the 12 POPs already banned by the Convention, this pesticide
accumulates in very cold climates, like the Arctic, where low temperatures
prevent it from evaporating. It has spread to the fauna in the regions of
the far North and particularly affects the indigenous peoples who depend on
the fatty tissues and meat of animals like whales and seals for their
The activists reported that lindane can damage the nervous and immune
systems, and that scientific research has linked its use to brain tumours in
Meanwhile, the delegates agreed to uphold the exemptions for countries that
need to use the insecticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) to fight
malaria, although they called for a search for effective, affordable
alternatives, in order to gradually phase out the use of this chemical.
DDT, which is included in the ”dirty dozen”, is still widely used as an
effective and low-cost weapon against the mosquitoes that transmit malaria,
which kills more than one million people around the world every year,
primarily in Africa. A total of around 300 million people contract the
”The convention required this meeting to determine whether DDT continues to
be essential to health protection and the decision was yes,” said Buccini,
who pointed out that the list of exemptions is reviewed every three years.
In addition, the conference called for the World Health Organisation (WHO)
to cooperate in each review, and in the search for alternatives to DDT.
Toepfer noted that although there is agreement that DDT cannot be eliminated
yet, a major effort is underway worldwide to come up with alternatives for
The Stockholm Convention, which was signed in 2001, is aimed at eliminating
or reducing levels of 12 specific POPs: nine pesticides (aldrine, chlordane,
DDT, dieldrine, endrine, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and toxaphen),
two unintentional byproducts of chemical production and the burning of
chlorinated substances (dioxins and furans), and a group of industrial
pollutants known collectively as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The majority of these chemicals are organochlorines or byproducts of their
production or use.
These chemicals, which are highly toxic to animals and humans, are stable
and persistent, lasting for years or decades before degrading into less
dangerous forms; travel widely through the air and water; and accumulate in
the fatty tissue of living organisms - which means they can be passed along
the food chain.
Exposure to these 12 toxins has been shown to weaken the immune system and
increase the risk of cancer, hormonal imbalances, neurological disorders,
infertility and diabetes.
The Convention, adopted in May 2001 in Stockholm under the auspices of the
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has been signed so far by 151
countries and ratified by 97. It entered into force in May 2004.
The conference in Punta del Este drew 636 delegates from 133 countries,
one-third of whom were representatives of non-governmental organisations
(NGOs), who attended as observers.
Toepfer highlighted the efforts of activists, stating that IPEN and other
NGOs have played a key role by focusing the attention of governments and the
public on the need to eliminate these chemicals.
Governments must make their own contribution by rapidly reducing the risks
posed to the environment by toxic chemicals with a long life span, he added.
Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, who attended Friday's closing session,
underlined the importance of tackling the world's environmental challenges,
”as social problems that must be resolved at a political level.”
The Convention should be conceived of as part of ”a sustainable development
project in which the economy is at the service of people, and people are
effectively recognised as part of society and their natural environment,” he
The 2nd Conference of the Parties will be held next year in Geneva.
Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.