USA retains pesticide lindane at NAFTA meeting

MONTREAL, Canada, October 5, 2004 (ENS): The U.S. representatives to a tri-national taskforce meeting last week in Montreal announced plans to allow continued use of the pesticide lindane in the United States.

By contrast, Canada plans to eliminate agricultural uses by the end of 2004 and Mexico has declared as a goal a full phase out of agricultural, veterinary and pharmaceutical uses of the pesticide.

Representatives from the three countries met in Montreal, Canada through September 28 to 30 to draft a North American Regional Action Plan for lindane through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America established under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Public health, indigenous and environmental groups say the Bush administration policy disregards their objections to lindane, a neurotoxic chemical that is banned in 17 countries.

“The U.S. position allowing continued use of lindane is downright shameful,” said Pam Miller, the official nongovernmental organization representative on the task force and executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, who was in the meeting last week. “The U.S. should take a lead role in getting rid of this old and dangerous chemical, not lag behind the rest of the world.”

Lindane is a neurotoxin that causes seizures, damages the nervous system, and weakens the immune system. Exposure may cause cancer and disrupt animal hormone systems.

Because lindane is persistent and travels globally via air and water, its continued use in agriculture poses an exposure risk to people far from the source.

Lindane is now one of the most abundant pesticides in Arctic air and water, and northern indigenous peoples are exposed through their traditional diets. Lindane residues have been reported in a variety of common foods in the United States.

Fifty-eight public health, indigenous and environmental organizations have sent a joint letter to U.S. agency officials and task force members urging the elimination of lindane. More than 400 U.S. health care professionals sent a similar letter.

Environmental NGOs have submitted a request to Bayer CropScience asking for a voluntary withdrawal of lindane products from the North American market. Bayer recently acquired Gustafson LLC, the primary distributor in the U.S. of lindane seed treatment products.

Internationally, lindane is included the Prior Informed Consent list of the Rotterdam Convention.

“This old, bioaccumulative pesticide damages human nervous and immune systems and is linked to cancer,” said Kristin Schafer, program coordinator for Pesticide Action Network North America. “The U.S. must reconsider its position and eliminate both pharmaceutical and agricultural uses of lindane to protect public health.”

Pharmaceutical use of lindane also contaminates drinking water sources. The Los Angeles County Sanitation District estimates that one dose of a lindane treatment for head lice can pollute six million gallons of water to levels exceeding drinking water standards. This threat to clean drinking water, and the enormous costs of clean up, prompted California to ban lindane shampoos and lotions in 2002.

“As a pediatrician in California where pharmaceutical lindane use has already been banned, I know that more effective and less toxic treatments exist for headlice," said Mark Miller, MD, director of the University of California at San Francisco Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, an academic representative to the task force who attended the meeting.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to this chemical that presents a danger to the young nervous system," said Miller.

The 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Re-registration Eligibility Decision allows lindane to be used as seed treatment for six grain crops - corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye, and sorghum. These seed treatments account for 99 percent of lindane use in the United States.

The North American Regional Action Plan for lindane is scheduled to be open for public comment in January 2005.

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