Health Canada should ban lice shampoos with insecticide: activists
The Canadian Press
Parents of children battling head lice are being urged to avoid
over-the-counter treatments that contain a pesticide outlawed for agricultural
use in dozens of countries — including Canada — because of its adverse effects
on humans and the water supply.
While a number of lice shampoos don't contain lindane, store shelves across the
country are still stocked with brands containing the controversial chemical.
Lindane-based pharmaceuticals may represent the extreme when it comes to killing
lice, but environmental activists say parents are often so disturbed by the
thought of their kids harbouring bugs and the stigma of becoming infected that
they adopt an "eradicate at any cost" stance.
"I don't really think that people comprehend alternative substances are
effective and we're more or less dousing our children in pesticides" when using
lindane, said Kevin Mercer of the group Riversides, which advocates on water
quality issues. "Using lindane to kill head lice is like using a sledgehammer to
kill an ant."
While several environmental groups have called for a ban on lindane-based
pharmaceuticals, Health Canada still allows its use in lice and scabies
treatments, even though its use as an agricultural pesticide has been banned.
The Canadian Paediatric Society is reviewing its position on lindane products
and currently recommends that they not be used on infants and children under 17.
The society advises that products that contain pyrethrin or permethrin, instead
of lindane, are considered safe.
Pesticide linked to convulsions, deaths
California banned lindane products in 2002 amid concerns the chemical was
showing up in wastewater and because lindane-based medications were generating
reports of skin irritation, dizziness, headaches and, in some extreme cases,
convulsions and death.
California estimated that a single treatment of a lindane-based product that was
washed down the drain was impacting 22 million litres of water and bringing
contamination above the limit of 19 parts per trillion.
A few years after the ban was implemented, officials said lindane levels had
become nearly undetectable in the water supply and there was no notable increase
in lice or scabies outbreaks.
Several U.S. states in the Great Lakes basin are now considering a similar ban,
but the Ontario government and Health Canada say they're not overly concerned
about the impacts of lindane-based shampoos.
There is evidence that shampoos are causing some levels of lindane to show up in
municipal wastewater effluent testing, but "it is uncommon and would have
minimal impact to the environment," said John Steele, a spokesman for Ontario's
Ministry of the Environment.
"Work has shown that lindane is essentially not a concern and in fact, over 90
to 95 per cent of the samples were non-detect," he said.
"Historically, we have studied the environmental effects of the use of lindane
and we have reviewed monitoring data that showed that concentrations of lindane
were generally not detected in sediments or [in bacteria, plant or animal life]
in the Great Lakes."
Health Canada conducted a safety evaluation for lindane and found the risks
associated with occasional and short-duration exposure to head lice and scabies
products were less serious than when the chemical was used as an agricultural
In 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said lindane-based products
should be used only after other alternatives had failed and currently warns the
public that if they are used, they should only be used once.
"Patients are at risk for serious neurologic adverse events, and even death,
particularly with early re-treatment," states the warning, which adds that it's
not known when it's considered safe to administer a second dose.
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