short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography
Since being published, this article has undergone some editing due to further research by the author which questioned some of the original text. In the interests of honesty and transparency, the amended sections appear at the bottom of the piece. That further research had the benefit of new information on the dangers of lindane being discovered, which has been added.
Scooting through the headlines this morning, my eye was caught by an article in that bastion of even-handed journalism the Guardian. Seems those dastardly foreigners are up to their old tricks of trying to kill the British again. But slowly, and by stealth, this time. The Lancet Oconology has just published a report by the World Health Organisation warning of probable links between the insecticide lindane and cancer.
Anybody reading Insecticide lindane found to cause cancer might get the impression that the main threat of being inadvertedly exposed to lindane, comes from foreign sources. We might also suppose, that along with other Western governments, our government is powerless to do anything about the dangers those foreign sources pose. Indeed, from the sub header “Use of chemical in UK restricted, but consumers may still be exposed through foods imported from other countries” most of us would assume other countries would lie beyond the borders of the EU. After all, isn’t protecting our food supplies from being contaminated by carcinogenic poisons the sort of thing the EU is there for? With that in mind, it’s very reassuring to read “Lindane has been banned or restricted in most countries since 2009 under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.” Now we can all rest in our beds knowing that other countries must mean third world rogue nations spraying gallons of lindane on everything edible from potatos to cream buns, most of which will be detected by our lads at the frontier long before they reach our shops, cafés and restaurants. Just avoid foreign muck and you’ll remain fit as a fiddle. Yet the truth is somewhat different. Though originally intended as an insecticide for use in agriculture, among other things, lindane is still widely used in lotions and creams to combat scabies and hair lice.
Unlike science correspondent, Hannah Devlin, a leading newspaper doesn’t cover my expenses to do the necessary research needed to to explain the background to the WHO’s latest report, but I do consider it important for readers to know exactly to which nations the term other countries refers. Perhaps it’s just me, but I get the distinct impression we are not supposed to think these particular other countries are other countries like the United States, Sweden or Belgium but other countries where countless unregulated factories belch out clouds of black smoke day and night. Other countries, unlike ours, where local mafia-like organisations force slave labourers to raise mutant strawberries on contaminated wasteland in the shadows of towering chimneys coated with radioactive soot. With their lax laws and rampant corruption they don’t give a fig about British lives.
Not having sufficient cash on me at the moment to book a steerage bunk on a tramp steamer to whatever other countries the corporate media has in its crosshairs at the moment, I set off to sail the seven seas of the internet on a long and convoluted voyage of discovery to locate these distant purveyors of poison.
My first port of call was the National Pediculosis Association, which features a long list of manufacturers of lindane, most of which appeared to be sited in Western nations. Unfortunately, it is not made clear enough that nearly all the factories mentioned in the list ceased producing lindane some time ago. Though not mentioned in the list, Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals is the sole remaining manufacturer of lindane in the US. Most of today’s producers are situated on the Indian sub continent, which has a severe problem with lindane polluting the water supplies in some major cities. Japan and China also produce lindane. But the Guardian article is more than misleading; it isn’t only imported food from countries producing lindane we should worry about, there is the massive problem of widespread contamination of land and seas by lindane resulting from six decades of previous use.
One of the important problems with pharmaceutical products like lindane is the long-term effects they have on the environment. Though originally synthesised by Michael Farady in 1825, its use as an insecticide was not discovered until 1942. Britain’s Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) began marketing it soon after. For more than sixty years it was employed on a global scale. Without the strict supervison we now know is necessary for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) it was used to control pests in livestock, treat soil and seeds. It was even sprayed on food crops to combat insect infestation.
Resistant to environmental degradation, lindane can not only remain a pollutant in the environment for a very long time, but it can also spread far beyond the area where it was initially used, posing a serious health hazard for generations. As any harmful effects caused by use of lindane are presumed to have been unintentional, legal culpability is hard to establish. Nevertheless, that should not automatically relieve the pharmaceutical companies involved in its production of any moral responsibilty towards making amends for the huge amount of damage the insecticide has caused the planet. After all, the companies and their shareholders have benefited massively from the huge profits generated by its manufacture and subsequent sales for well over half a century. That you didn’t intend to knock someone over in a car accident does not exempt you, or your insurance company, from paying compensation. DDT, another POP mentioned in the Guardian article – to the point of muddying the issue – is still being found in food and water all over the globe despite having been banned in the majority of countries over thirty years ago.
The introduction of highly secretive TPP and TTIP agreements are destined to make legal actions against companies manufacturing and distributing products like lindane far more difficult. Prohibiting their importation and sale may even lead to manufacturers receiving massive compensation awards on the grounds of restrictive practices. The fact these points are not even skated over by the Guardian article poses yet more questions about the role of the so-called ‘serious’ section of the press today, and where its loyalties really lie. As both agreements are shrouded in such secrecy, I don’t know exactly how the production and importation of food may be affected.
Despite information to suggest otherwise, lindane is still used all over the world as second-line pharmaceutical treatment for lice and scabies, which means it is more likely to be used on children than adults. Farmworkers and pet owners can also come into close contact with lindane when using it to control insect infestation of animals.
Copyright © 2015 Bryan Hemming
The misleading portion of the original text is posted below, more or less as it was, purely to point out the pitfalls of relying too much on information gleaned from the internet without further checking to back it up. I only wish our corporate media would have the common decency to introduce a similar policy and admit where mistakes have been made. These actions have been undertaken solely by the author, who has received no prompting, information, notices or requests from outside sources or concerns.
“By this time, like me, you might go on to wonder where these dastardly foreigners are getting their hands on this vile stuff. And you could expect the Guardian’s science correspondent, Hannah Devlin, to be concerned as well. In fact, you could even think the World Health Organisation and the Lancet Oconology, responsible for publishing the findings, would think it very important to expose the locations of the satanic death mills making it.”
“To my pleasant surprise no sooner had tapped ‘manufacturers of lindane’ into my keyboard than a long list from the National Pediculosis Association appeared. Now we’d get the bastards! A closer look revealed I might not have to travel very far at all. Shock! Horror! Blow me down if nearly all the major producers of lindane appear to be based in mainland Europe, the USA, Canada, and Britain.”
By mixing outdated information with current information, and not making a clear enough distinction between the two, the National Pediculosis Association has created unnecessary confusion with its various lists, which can be seen by clicking onto the link, and links from that link. One clearer, more concise list would be a far better help for parents with children suffering from head lice or scabies wanting to avoid treatments containing lindane.
While accepting that past manufacturers of lindane bear moral responsibility for any unwanted side-effects caused by the use of lindane, confusing data does not help patients undergoing treatment today, either for conditions lindane is supposed to relieve, or for serious side-effects potentially caused by unintentional ingestion of lindane in the past.
Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science
Hold your verve
More Coyotes than Wolves
My journey into sketching and drawing in and around Jimena de la Frontera, Andalucia
Gene Logsdon Memorial Blogsite
Art, music, books, history & current events
A life in a photobooth.
Journeys Through Place and Time