and environmental health advocates from the US, Mexico and Canada hosted a
"Lindane Lunch" of traditional and common foods known to be contaminated
by the toxic pesticide lindane, then testified in support of elimination
of the chemical at a tri-national meeting of the Commission for
Environmental Cooperation. The commission has designated a task force to
reduce exposure to lindane, but U.S. government foot-dragging has thus far
prevented the task force from achieving a continent-wide ban.
Advocates offered samples of lindane-contaminated foods to
government officials at the meeting in San Diego. On the menu: Salmon,
halibut, and muktuk (whale meat) from Alaska, important foods in a
traditional diet for Arctic peoples. Also served were common foods that
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found contaminated by lindane such
as pickles, mixed nuts, chocolate chip cookies and wheat bread. Human
breast milk, which studies have found can also be highly contaminated, was
on display. The activists offered hors d’oeuvres of the contaminated foods
served on cocktail napkins printed with "five reasons to ban lindane now"
to government officials attending the meeting.
" 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."
In their testimony, activists documented human health and
environmental effects that have already caused 52 countries to ban the use
of lindane, an old, bioaccumulative and neurotoxic insecticide still used
for seed treatment and head lice control in the U.S. Lindane is the most
abundant pesticide found in Arctic air and water, presenting a significant
health problem for Arctic peoples. A 2003 study from the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention found that 62% of U.S. residents sampled
carry the insecticide in their body, and the highest levels are found
among women of childbearing age.
"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. "
While Mexico recently committed to phase out all uses of
lindane and Canada has phased out all agricultural uses, 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 used
agriculturally in the U.S. for seed treatment. Lindane use to control head
lice and scabies also continues in the U.S. and Canada.
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. Lindane and its breakdown products
persist in the environment, where they can expose people and wildlife long
after the pesticide is applied.
Lindane is also a significant contaminate 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.
"After banning lindane shampoos in California in 2002, we
saw a dramatic drop in the levels of lindane leaving Los Angeles County
wastewater treatment plants," said Ann Heil, chemical engineer from Los
Angeles. "Eliminating lindane has made a tremendous difference in our
water quality with no adverse effects. We hope that all of North America
Advocates hosting the Lindane Lunch and testifying before
the commission included: Shawna Larson, Indigenous Environmental Network,
Alaska, US; Mindahi Bastida, Consejo Regional Otomi Del Alto Lerma,
Mexico; Patricia Diaz Romo, Huicholes y Plaguicidas, Mexico; Ann Heil,
Chemical Engineer, Los Angeles, California, US; Pam Miller, Alaska
Community Action on Toxics, US; Angela Rickman, Sierra Club, Canada; Aaron
Colangelo, Natural Resources Defense Council, US; and Kristin Schafer,
Pesticide Action Network North America.
Photos available: activists serving lindane
contaminated foods including muktuk (whale meat), arctic fish and common
foods such as chocolate chip cookies, pickles and mixed nuts. Jars of
human breast milk on display.
Spanish speakers available for comment.