The United Nations is currently considering the elimination
or reduction of twelve of some of the most damaging chemicals that are
Persistent Organic Polutants (POPs) through the formulation of an international,
legally binding treaty. Nine of the POPs chemicals under consideration are
pesticides that have been extensively used in both developed and developing
countries. Although many countries have banned these chemicals, they remain
stockpiled, are produced or used illegally, or, because of lenghthy half-lives,
they continue to exist in soil, or other environmental media. In Geneva, this
paper instructed both government delegates and public interest groups about how
these chemicals are particularly injurious to women's bodies.)
Lindane (from: A briefing for UNISON prepared by the Pesticides
Trust, London, 1999)
Lindane - g-HCH [hexachlorocyclohexane], is included in the
government "Red List" of dangerous substances. It has been in use as
an broad range insecticide for 50 years, long enough to build up a significant
body of evidence on its toxic and environmental hazards. It has caused deaths
and poisonings in humans and there is authoritative recognition of its long term
health effects including carcinogenic effects. It is a serious environmental
contaminant and as well as being directly toxic to wildlife. It bio-accumulates
along food chains. Scientific and anecdotal evidence links lindane with serious
health problems including aplastic anaemia, the birth disorders C.H.A.R.G.E. and
breast cancer. (See below).
Lindane has been banned or severely restricted in 37 countries.
The Advisory Committee on Pesticides in the UK has so far carried out three
reviews of lindane and continued to recommend its approval. The Pesticides Trust
believes that Lindane should be banned on the basis of existing evidence and as
a precaution to avoid further health and environmental problems which are
suspected of being caused by lindane.
Many other organochlorines which over the years have been linked
to major health and environmental problems have been banned or are no longer
used. Included in this catalogue are aldrin, dieldrin and endrin which have
virtually disappeared, and DDT, heptachlor and toxaphene which have been banned
in many countries but are still used quite extensively particularly in some
developing countries. Lindane is an organochlorine insecticide that is still in
relatively widespread use in developed nations as well as in the third world. It
is still in use in treatment against lice and scabies in humans and also against
ectoparasites in veterinary treatment. In a control study, Davis et al. reported
a statistically significant increase of brain cancer in children following
treatment with lindane shampoo. ("Family Pesticide Use and Childhood Brain
Cancer", 1993). Veterinary use in sheep can cause contamination of wool, as
well of milk and meat.
Lindane is also known as g-HCH since it has to be made up of at
least 99% of the gamma isomer of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH). Technical HCH can
include varying proportions of alpha, beta, delta and epsilon HCH isomers, but
because these have been shown to have serious short and long term health
effects, in the UK all HCH products containing less than 99% of the gamma isomer
The organochlorines in general, and lindane in particular, are
characterised by their broad spectrum insecticidal activity, long persistence in
the environment, and their tendency to bio-accumulate along the food chain.
Several cases of human poisoning by lindane have been reported.
Children are significantly more susceptible to the toxic effects of lindane. In
one case a dose equivalent to 62,5 mg/kg proved fatal, while the LD50 in the rat
is above 88mg/kg. In adults, doses above 300 mg/kg ingested orally have proved
Since lindane has been in very widespread use for several
decades, its long term health effects have been extensively studied. Included
among the reported chronic effects of exposure to lindane are nervous disorders
and increased liver weight.
The International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) has
concluded that lindane is a possible human carcinogen (class 2B), and the US EPA
has classified it similarly as a class B2/C possible human carcinogen.
Key health issues.
… Aplastic anaemia. Exposure to lindane has been linked with
blood disorders known as blood dyscrasias, and in particular the disorders
aplastic anaemia where the formation of platelets and white cells is disrupted.
… C.H.A.R.G.E. This condition which involves multiple congenital abnormalities
has been linked to exposure of the mothers of CHARGE children to lindane during
early pregnancy. A statistically significant proportion of mothers of CHARGE
children in the UK were exposed to pesticides in early pregnancy, and one of the
most prominent pesticides implicated was lindane.(Blake and others, Child care
health and development, 1993, 19, 395-409) … Breast Cancer. Lindane is an
endocrine disruptor which is capable of imitating hormones in humans and thereby
disrupting the physiological functions which these hormones control. There is a
significant body of evidence which suggests that where lindane is used
extensively, and particularly where cattle are exposed to it, the incidence of
breast cancer is higher. The UK has the highest rate of death from breast cancer
in the world, and in Lincolnshire were lindane is used extensively on sugar beet
crops, the rate of breast cancer is 40% higher than the national average. (Women
Environmental Network, 1994). The presence of lindane in human milk has been
reported in countries throughout the world (Moses, Marion, Pesticides and breast
cancer, Pesticides News 22, December 1993, 3-5).
Environmental effects. Lindane is highly volatile, and when
applied to field crops in particular, a high proportion (up to 90%0 of the
pesticide enters the atmosphere and is later deposited by rain. Lindane is also
leached into surface waters and even into ground water.
The International Conference on the Protection of the North Sea
agreed to reduce emissions from land, rivers and the atmosphere of number of
toxic chemicals including lindane by 50% between 1985 and 1995.
In common with other organochlorine pesticides lindane is fat
soluble and this contributes to its tendency to bio-accumulate through food
chains. Residues have been detected in the kidneys, liver and adipose tissue of
a wide variety of wild animals and birds. It is highly toxic to aquatic
invertebrates and fish.