FDA Allows Banned Insecticide in Medicinal Lotions

The New Standard
Catherine Komp, October 9, 2006

Public health advocates are questioning why the federal government is continuing to permit the use of a toxic and potentially deadly insecticide contained in shampoos and lotions marketed to treat skin ailments.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in August that it was banning lindane, an organochlorine pesticide and possible human carcinogen widely produced since the 1940s, for agricultural uses. The agency said the companies making the insecticide "requested to voluntarily cancel all remaining pesticide registrations."

But the insecticide, which the EPA states is "quite toxic for humans," is still approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for head lice and scabies.

Despite the FDAs own admission of multiple deaths and neurological side effects linked to the use of the pesticide by humans, the agency states that "lindane products have benefits that outweigh risks." The FDA blames some of the deaths and disabilities resulting from lindane on "product misuse."

According to the FDA, up to one million prescriptions for lindane are written each year to treat new cases of head lice and scabies.

California was the first state to prohibit lindane in any product used to treat lice and scabies on humans. In addition to health problems resulting from the direct use of lindane, California lawmakers were concerned about the pesticide contaminating the water supply. Like public interest groups opposing the use of lindane, the California Health Department stated that there are easily available alternatives, such as special combs to remove lice, or less toxic, over-the-counter products to treat both lice and scabies.

"It is baffling why the federal government has now banned uses of lindane for farming, but still allows it to be put on children's heads," Ann Heil, an engineer at the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, told the LA Times.

According to the EPA, lindane affects the nervous system, causes neurotoxic effects and "appears to cause liver and kidney toxicity." The agency also states that infants and children "may be more susceptible to the potential adverse effects of lindane than adults."