Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

Killing us softly, lindane … scooting through the headlines


Graphic – Bryan Hemming

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.


12 comments on “Killing us softly, lindane … scooting through the headlines

  1. Laura Bloomsbury
    July 10, 2015

    lindane sounds so pretty and harmless – fascinating in-depth article with your biting funny asides. What did Faraday discover it for? p.s. foreign muck? – never touch the stuff – garlic, aubergine, avocado – stick with shepherds pie for safety (when there is no foot and mouth, blue tongue – wonder why lindane does not work on them/)


    • Bryan Hemming
      July 10, 2015

      From what I read, it sounds more as though Faraday tripped upon it than anything while researching a chemical called γ-Hexachlorcyclohexane. γ-Hexachlorcyclohexane was first isolated by Dutch chemist Teunis van der Linden, from whom it gets its name. Lindane’s use as a pesticide wasn’t discovered until the early 1940s.


  2. navasolanature
    June 29, 2015

    Am really impressed by your post and the depths you had to research to get to the bottom of another journalist’s work. It does seem to be a minefield but you deserve to get this published in The Guardian! We really need more rigour these days. Am reading Naomi Klein’s book but she acknowledges all the other researchers she had.


  3. Bryan Hemming
    June 26, 2015

    Since replying to your previous comment I’ve jigged the thing about a bit more by putting the bits I changed at the end of the piece so that it is a little more readable.

    I think there’s a lot of cynicism in journalism today, and most journalists don’t seem to get about as much as they used to. I suppose that’s another of the negative aspects of the internet and mobile phone. Mind you, they’re very good for those who really want to know about things and I love it being connected, though I gave up the mobile so I can also get unconnected whenever I choose.

    Haven’t seen you about much recently, Linda. Good to see you back.


  4. rangewriter
    June 26, 2015

    What a stellar title for this disturbing post. We are really killing ourselves softly….


    • Bryan Hemming
      June 26, 2015

      Yes, pity I messed this article up a little, but I thought if important to make the point that we should not automatically believe the first thing we read on the net however important it may seem at first sight. We must not tailor information to fit pre-conceived notions.

      Our main media outlets are are constantly feeding us with poorly-researched articles, propaganda and downright lies. Worst of all, when exposed, the internet allows them to act as though they didn’t do it, by not owning up to the changes they have made. When you consider how many people may have read the offending piece you get an idea of how much damage might have been caused.

      To sort of paraphrase the Bob Dylan (to live outside the law you must be honest) to right the lies we can’t write lies.


      • rangewriter
        June 26, 2015

        So true, Bryan. Wasn’t there a time when we could trust our newspapers and magazines more? Or were the days of Walter Cronkite also an illussion? I know that now, most news is poorly researched and biased from the git go. But I assume that is because of the corporate dominance of news agencies. But reporters have always had big bosses to answer to, and the big bosses had their own agendas. The bottom line, I guess, is that we must view all reporting with a skeptic’s eye and cross check everything.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Nil
    June 25, 2015

    This was one I did not know… Monsanto, Round Up and GMOs is interesting too… While people are meant to believe that GMOs are going to solve the hunger problem of the world, in one of the videos I saw some time back, it was said clearly that the genetic manipulation was meant to make the crops ‘Round Up ready’ so they would not die together with the bees and the weeds… Isn’t that nice?…


    • Bryan Hemming
      June 25, 2015

      The most recent news is that Monsanto intend to tackle all the bad publicity they’ve been receiving. Not by addressing any of the problems that have been pointed out, but by moving the HQ to another country, changing the company’s name and getting a new image.

      It’s exactly what criminals do to escape notice; they have plastic surgery, change their names and move abroad.


  6. Bryan Hemming
    June 24, 2015

    Thanks, Martina. This sort of thing is destined to get worse with the secret TPP and TTIP agreements, as they will give global corporations the right to force their products on us under the threat of costly legal actions against our governments (taxpayers). The legal actions will be judged by ‘international’ committees composed of people representing the interests of global corporations. Any country refusing to allow products they regard as unsafe on the market could face massive fines and have to pay compensation awards should those committee decide against them.


  7. Martina Ramsauer
    June 24, 2015

    I’m speechless and thank you very much for this report.:) Very best regards

    Liked by 1 person

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