by Pesticide Action Network North America
Indigenous and environmental health advocates
from the U.S., Mexico and Canada testified in San Diego, California
today, in front of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
(CEC) in support of eliminating lindane, a pesticide that persists
in air and water and has been found at high levels in the Arctic.
The Commission designated a task force in 2002 to reduce exposure
to lindane, but so far the U.S. government has blocked a continent-wide
Advocates hosted a "Lindane Lunch" for government officials
attending the San Diego CEC meeting, serving traditional and common
foods known to be contaminated by the toxic pesticide lindane.
On the menu were salmon, halibut, and muktuk (whale meat) from
Alaska-all important in the traditional diet of Arctic peoples-as
well as common foods that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
has found contaminated by lindane such as pickles, mixed nuts,
chocolate chip cookies and wheat bread. Human breastmilk, found
to contain lindane in studies around the world, was also on display.
"We wanted to offer the government officials a taste of
our concern," explained Shawna Larson from the Indigenous
Environmental Network who traveled from Alaska to San Diego to
highlight the effects of lindane on Arctic peoples. "The
task force's decisions have a real impact on our food and way
of life in the Arctic, where lindane is the most abundant pesticide
found in our air and water."
Indigenous peoples of the north who rely on traditional diets
of marine mammals and fish are particularly at risk from lindane
exposure through foods. In 1997, the Northern Contaminants Program
estimated 15 to 20 percent of Inuit women on southern Baffin Island
are exposed to dangerous levels of lindane in their daily diet.
But everyone on the planet also faces health risks from lindane
residues. An average local diet in any region of the world was
found in 2003 to include 3.8 to 12 times the "Allowable Daily
Intake" of lindane set under Codex Alimentarius, the United
Nations system of food standards.
Lindane can cause seizures and damage to the nervous system,
and can weaken the immune system. Case-controlled research shows
a significant association between brain tumors in children and
the use of lindane-containing lice shampoos. The insecticide is
also a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor.
In 2004 Mexico committed to phase out all uses of lindane, and
Canada instituted a phase out of lindane for all agricultural
uses. However, the U.S. continues seed treatment uses of lindane
for corn, wheat and a handful of other grains. In an average year,
142,000 pounds of lindane are applied to seeds in the U.S. Lindane
is also use to control head lice and scabies in the U.S. and Canada.
"U.S government inaction and industry influence have kept
lindane on the market here for far too long," said Kristin
Schafer with Pesticide Action Network North America. "Fifty-two
countries have already banned this toxic pesticide, it is time
for the U.S. to join the club."
Lindane is also a significant contaminant in urban sewer systems
and can pollute sources of drinking water. The Los Angeles County
Sanitation District estimates that one dose of lindane shampoo
used as a treatment for head lice contaminates six million gallons
of water. This threat to clean drinking water, and the enormous
costs of clean up, prompted California to ban lindane shampoos
and lotions in 2002.
The Commission on Environmental Cooperation, established under
the environmental side-agreement to the North America Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), agreed in 2002 to target lindane for regional
action in North America under the Sound Management of Chemicals
(SMOC) Initiative. The SMOC working group has already developed
North America Regional Action Plans for DDT, chlordane, mercury
Lindane is listed on the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed
Consent (PIC) list, and is restricted under the international
protocol on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). The
pesticide is also a candidate for addition to the list of chemicals
targeted for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention
on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which will hold its first
official meeting in Uruguay in the first week of May 2005.
Organizations hosting the Lindane Lunch and sending representatives
to testify before the commission include: from Canada; Sierra
Club, Canada; from Mexico, Consejo Regional Otomi Del Alto Lerma,
and Huicholes y Plaguicidas; and from the U.S.; Indigenous Environmental
Network, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Natural Resources
Defense Council, and PANNA.
Sources: Press Release, PANNA, March 16, 2005, Ban Lindane Now,
Lindane, Fact Sheet, PANNA, March 2005, Too Toxic for Pets, But
not for Children, PANUPS, Lindane, Going, Going, Gone, Lindane
Moves closer to Elimination, Global Pesticide Campaigner, Dec,
2003, PANNA, http://www.panna.org; Lindane RED Facts, US EPA,
September 2002, http://www.epa.gov/REDs/factsheets/lindane_fs.htm.