Insecticide Still Used in U.S. Found to Cause Cancer by WHO

Friday, June 26, 2015
Crops being sprayed with pesticide (photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that exposure to the insecticide lindane, which is still used extensively in the United States, can cause cancer.


Formulated but no longer produced in the U.S., lindane is used for livestock, pet and seed treatment, in forestry, and on fruit and vegetable crops. It is also used topically for the treatment of head and body lice, as well as scabies. Small quantities of the chemical (1%) are used in certain lotions, cream, and shampoos.


WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) focused on lindane as an insecticide, and found it to be carcinogenic to humans. The IARC also said the chemical DDT, which was widely used in the U.S. until the 1970s, also causes cancer. (It can still be produced in the U.S. but only sold to foreign buyers.) Both chemicals have been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, testicular cancer and liver cancer, according to TIME.


“Exposure to lindane can increase one’s risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 60%,” TIME’s Jacob Koffler wrote.


Although the chemical has been detected in groundwater near hazardous waste sites and in the air during its formulation process, the most likely exposure in humans is oral ingestion of food that contains traces of the insecticide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


Lindane-based shampoo and lotion have been on the market since the early 1950s. Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC, said no studies have been done yet on the risk of these types of exposure.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

DDT, Lindane Can Cause Cancer, WHO Says (by Jacob Koffler, TIME)

Carcinogenicity of lindane, DDT, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (by Dana Loomis, Kathryn Guyton, Yann Grosse, Fatiha El Ghissasi, Véronique Bouvard, Lamia Benbrahim-Tallaa, Neela Guha, Heidi Mattock, and Kurt Straif, The Lancet Oncology)

Lindane (Gamma-Hexachlorocyclohexane) (Environmental Protection Agency)


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