By CLAY TAYLOR
Capital News Service
LANSING -- A powerful head lice treatment may kill lice, but it could also hurt the brain and the environment, according to environmental and health groups and legislators urging the chemical’s eventual ban.
The target of their efforts is lindane, a chemical that they contend causes ecological damages and neurological harm – seizures, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and,
in some cases, convulsions and death.
School nurses who use lindane may soon be forbidden to use the chemical. A bill in the Legislature would restrict its use only to doctors, and it could be applied only in a doctor’s office.
There’s no longer a need for lindane, said Rep. Ted Hammon, the bill’s primary sponsor.
“It’s what they call a second- and third-line use,” Hammon said. “A doctor will
not use it unless other treatments fail. It’s just not used that much anymore.
“My bill will move toward the elimination of lindane,” he said.
Hammon, D-Burton, said that Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Morton Grove, Ill. is the only manufacturer of lindane products in the country. He said he worked with the company while revising an earlier bill that called for a total ban. He calls the current bill a compromise.
Morton Grove President Kurt Orlofsky said lindane has a right to be on the market.
“It serves a very vital health care need in the US,” Orlofsky said. “The FDA has,
on a number of occasions, reviewed it and considered whether it should be on the market, and time and time again has ruled that it should be. We feel the FDA has the right to determine the safety and right of a product.”
Morton Grove owns the Web site www.lindane.com, which includes quotes from
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies which address the chemical’s overall worth.
One quoted statement from the FDA says, “Lindane products have benefits that
outweigh risks when used as directed.”
Hammon argues that it is still a dangerous, obsolete chemical.
“You may have one agency that says this, another agency that says that, but it’s totally banned in California, over 52 countries totally banned it and 33 countries heavily restrict it,” he said. “I’m not all that mystified that one agency said it has potential.”
The FDA says that while most claims against lindane products were the result of incorrect use, “there have been rare case reports of serious reactions with apparently normal use.” The agency has also issued a health advisory about lindane products and
limited the size of bottles to prevent overdoses.
Several groups, including the Michigan Environmental Council, are supporting Hammon’s bill.
“It’s been banned from agricultural practices, it’s been banned by veterinaries for use on animals, it’s been banned for use in military, and Michigan still uses it to treat
head lice,” said council policy director James Clift. “We’re trying to get them to strictly
limit the use of that.”
Continued use could also harm the environment, says council health program director Molly Polverento.
“It’s a biocumulative chemical,” Polverento said. “If it gets in the water, it’s going to stay there for a while.”
She said lindane used to be a fairly common treatment for head lice.
“Some people will still have the shampoo in their house,” she said.
Use of the shampoo can easily contaminate local water supplies, said Mike Shriberg, policy director for the Ann Arbor-based non-profit Ecology Center.
“It goes into the pipes and into the wastewater treatment plant, which doesn’t
actually remove it, and gets into the water,” Shriberg said. He said the chemical can also move up the food chain in wildlife, gaining increased concentration the higher it goes.
He cited a study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences which analyzed California’s water before and after the state banned lindane in 2002, showing a decline of lindane’s presence in drinking water after the ban.
According to Verispan, a national health care information company, sales of lindane products declined 87 percent from 1993 to 2005, falling from nearly 1.9 million prescriptions dispensed to approximately 242,000.
The Michigan Head Lice Manual from the state Board of Education advises against its use.
“Several cases of severe seizures in children using lindane have been reported. It
should be used very cautiously as a last resort,” the manual says, followed in boldfaced type by: “The state of Michigan does not recommend using lindane.”
The manual says that an infestation of head lice “does not pose a significant
health hazard and is not known to spread disease.” The most common symptom is an itching scalp resulting from the head lice’s saliva, although sometimes there are no symptoms.
The manual also says that the most dangerous aspect of head lice is the atmosphere of fear and anger engendered by a student with head lice, which can lead to teasing, hostility and ultimately, “inappropriate” treatments to kill the head lice. The
manual, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends Nix Permethrin as the primary treatment for head lice.
The House Great Lakes and Environment Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Jan. 22.