A run-in with lice is bad enough all by itself, but now there may be more to worry about when trying to get rid of them. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the insecticide lindane has been linked with an increase in the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
Treating for lice could give you cancer
The WHO compiled the information for their report from several major studies regarding the use of lindane in the U.S. and Canada. The findings of those studies revealed lindane exposure caused a 60 percent increase in the risk of developing NHL.
According to the WHO report, “Lindane has been used extensively for insect control, including in agriculture and for treatment of human lice and scabies. High exposures have occurred among agricultural workers and pesticide applicators; however, the use of lindane is now banned or restricted in most countries. Large epidemiological studies of agricultural exposures in the USA and Canada showed a 60 percent increased risk of NHL in those exposed to lindane.”
History of lindane use
Lindane was used by farmers decades ago to keep insects away and prevent them from destroying crops. It has subsequently been banned and is no longer used for this purpose. However, it is still approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in head lice treatments.
Products containing lindane date back to the early 1950s. Shampoos to treat head lice, as well as lotions to treat scabies, are still sold in North America, China, and India.
The Canadian Pediatric Society and other health organizations are raising their voices to call for a ban of lindane, particularly in products used on pregnant women or children.
It has already been banned in California because of concerns over the contamination of wastewater. It was also banned in most countries back in 2009 under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Lindane exposure risks
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said the highest exposure to lindane was previously found among agricultural workers and those who work with pesticides.
“This agricultural usage of lindane has been severely restricted starting in the 1970s and current general population exposure is mainly through the diet or when treated for scabies or lice,” said Dr. Kurt Staif, head of the IARC. “There are currently no epidemiological studies to quantify the lymphoma risk from these exposures.”
Confirmation of the hazards of DDT
Less surprisingly, the report by the WHO also pointed out the cancer-causing capabilities of the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). The WHO report stated that DDT “probably causes cancer.” It has been discovered that DDT raises the risk for NHL, liver cancer, and testicular cancer.
The IARC warned that DDT and its associated byproducts were “highly persistent and can be found in the environment and in animal and human tissues throughout the world.”
When in doubt, it is always best to avoid unnecessary chemical exposure. There are many natural remedies for dealing with lice and scabies infestations. There are also many “green” methods of keeping insects away from crops. Never expose yourself to harsh chemicals unnecessarily.
— Kristy Toth
Kristy is a freelance writer with more than twenty years of print and digital media writing experience and over seven years of university study in journalism, broadcasting, and mass communications. She specializes in health and wellness, alternative healing methods, news, the environment, and lifestyles. She currently resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with her family and pets.