NAFTA Commission May Ban Lindane in North America

MONTREAL, Canada, September 26, 2003 (ENS) - The governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States begin a meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico on Monday to decide what to do about lindane, part of a family of chemicals that are the most common pesticide pollutants in Canada’s Arctic.

The meeting is being convened by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), a joint body set up by the three countries as part of a side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The stakes are high for Canada in this meeting. Lindane not only stands to compromise the health of Canadians, it is also the subject of a $100 million action being brought against the Canadian government.

Crompton Corporation, an American pesticide manufacturer formerly known as Uniroyal, is asking for $100 million in compensation after the Canadian government de-registered lindane for use on Canadian canola crops.

Crompton notified Canadian authorities in November 2001 that it would pursue the NAFTA claim under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A deal to scrap lindane use in all of North America would likely affect the company’s claims for damages.


Canola seeds may no longer be treated with lindane in the United States or Canada. (Photo courtesy Manitoba Agriculture & Food)
Not only does Crompton want compensation for alleged financial losses, but it also wants the Canadian government to reinstate its registration for lindane products used on canola seed.

Canada did not ban the use of lindane for canola due to health or environmental concerns, but forbid the use of lindane for canola seed after it became a trade dispute with the United States, which forbids the use of lindane on canola.

Lindane is a white crystalline organic solid. In the United States, most uses were restricted in 1983, but lindane is currently used primarily for treating wood-inhabiting beetles and seeds. It is also used as a dip for fleas and lice on pets, and it is used on children and their families for treating head lice and scabies.

In the United States, lindane is also used on livestock, for soil treatment, on the foliage of fruit and nut trees, vegetables, timber, ornamental plants and for wood protection, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The chemical is transported to the Arctic on air currents, and tends to stay and concentrate there. Humans are exposed to lindane primarily through consumption of seals, as well as narwhals, caribou, and fish.

A document prepared for the CEC concludes, “Aboriginal and northern populations are particularly at risk given the evidence of high levels of lindane in their diet.”

Lindane is found in air, water and soil samples throughout the world and has been documented in human breast milk and amniotic fluid.

Long term exposure to lindane can lead to kidney, liver, and nervous system damage, and is thought to be linked to cancer, and to weaken peoples’ ability to fight off disease.

Lindane persists for decades in the environment. Because of its volatility, more than 99 percent of it may be lost to the atmosphere following application as a pesticide.

Lindane is considered an endocrine disrupting chemical and persistent organic pollutant because it travels long distances and breaks down very slowly. Conservationists would like to see lindane regulated by the Stockholm Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants.


An Inuit child, who like all inhabitants of the Canadian Arctic, is at risk of lindane exposure. (Photo courtesy Whale Cove Hotel)
“This chemical should eventually be included in the Stockholm Convention, the first international deal to limit and eventually eliminate such chemicals,” says Karen Wristen, executive director of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, a citizens' organization.

“This meeting of the CEC gives us a chance to start with a regional action plan, and to work toward an international ban,” she said.

The Stockholm Convention, which bans 12 persistant organic pollutants, does not yet cover lindane, but negotiations are under way to ban the pesticide.

People do not have to live in the Arctic to be at risk for lindane exposure. Bob Weinhold, writing in the June 2001 issue of the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences journal "Environmental Health Perspectives," said, "Lindane pervades the food supply."

"In the Total Diet Study, an FDA [U.S. Food & Drug Administration] project published in September 2000, lindane was found in dozens of foods, such as evaporated milk, ground beef, pork chops, chicken, lima beans, peanuts, popcorn, and breads.

"The levels of contamination aren't sufficient to cause health problems, FDA officials say. But little information exists on the interactions lindane may be having with the dozen or more other chemical contaminants typically associated with food production," wrote Weinhold, "for instance, benzene and chlorpyrifos, that are often found in tandem with lindane."