Congressman Questions FDA’s Continued Support for Harmful Pesticide in Shampoo

Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, last month presented a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, calling on the FDA to issue a ban on the use of the chemical lindane in pharmaceutical products used for the treatment of head lice.

hair-liceThe issue arises due to conflicting government responses to the warnings around the chemical, which was previously used as an agricultural pesticide. Several decades ago, insecticides similar to lindane, an organochlorine insecticide in the same family as the well-known chemical DDT, were found to be dangerous to humans and the environment and were banned. Since that time, additional studies and information have linked these chemicals to several forms of cancer. In addition, lindane has been cited for its negative environmental impact. Lindane has been detected in water sources after being rinsed down drains and into waterways.

The primary use for lindane is in the treatment of head lice. Head lice are tiny parasitic insects which feed off the blood of a person’s scalp. Head lice are a common problem, especially among elementary-aged school children, spreading through contact and sharing of combs and hats. Contrary to popular belief, head lice are not a symptom of poor hygiene and can occur in any population or living situation.

The current issue raised by Representative Markey addresses the inconsistency in the governmental stand on the dangers of lindane. Lindane was banned by the EPA many years ago, yet the FDA continues to allow its use in products used primarily on children whose developing bodies are more sensitive to toxins than other populations. In 2009, the FDA did take the step of issuing a Public Health Advisory regarding the use of lotions and shampoos containing lindane but did not ban the substance.

The standard treatment for head lice has been topical ointments and shampoos containing strong chemicals which kill the lice. Many of these prescription treatments, as well as many of the over-the-counter treatments, have proven to be toxic. Often the treatment must be repeated several times, leading to increased danger. Reactions to lindane, and other strong chemicals, can include skin irritation, seizures and, in rare instances, even death.

There are other options for the treatment of head lice, including natural treatments. In fact, in a 2002 study, lindane was compared to five other head lice products and found to be the least effective treatment. Without an FDA ban of this chemical, it is important for consumers to be aware of the potential dangers of using, or having used, these products.