North America acts to reduce risk of exposure to lindane

Commission for Environmental Cooperation
December 7, 2006

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) today announced the signing on 30 November 2006, of the North American Regional Action Plan (NARAP) on Lindane and Other Hexachlorocyclohexane Isomers to reduce the risk of exposure to the toxic pesticide and waste isomer byproducts.

The NARAP is a continental strategy for the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States to address exposure risks through a variety of national regulatory and management actions, outreach and education efforts, science and research, capacity building, and collaborative cross-border activities.

Specifically, the NARAP commits Canada to continue to assess and manage the risks from the sole current use of lindane in Canada as a pharmaceutical drug. Mexico agrees to eliminate all agricultural, veterinary, and pharmaceutical uses of lindane through a prioritized, phase-out approach. And the United States will work with pharmaceutical companies to develop alternatives for lice and scabies use.

Earlier this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that lindane manufacturers in the United States had voluntarily agreed to withdraw registration of this persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative chemical for its last six remaining agricultural uses. This followed the suspension in Canada of lindane pesticide products for all agricultural uses in 2001. A review of that suspension is ongoing.

Use of the chemical as a pharmaceutical treatment for head lice and scabies, however, will still be authorized in Canada and the United States, as a second-line agent (i.e., in cases where patients have not responded to or cannot tolerate other treatments).

“Although it has been used for decades, lindane remains a dangerous chemical that needed to be addressed,” says Adrián Vázquez, executive director of the CEC. “By signing this action plan, the governments have responded with a comprehensive strategy that will eliminate uses of lindane in North America that carry unacceptable risks.”

Lindane belongs to a family of toxic chemicals known as organochlorines. It is used as an agricultural and veterinary insecticide and also, in low concentrations, as a pharmaceutical for treatment of lice and scabies in humans. This wide-ranging, persistent, organic pollutant accumulates in living organisms and is associated with skin irritation and nausea. It can even cause convulsions and death with high levels of acute exposure.

Similar NARAPs on chlordane and DDT successfully eliminated the use of these pesticides in North America, and plans are currently in place to reduce the impact of mercury and PCBs on the environment.