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By Carlos Machado
Scientific research brought a lot of progress to the world, it is fair to admit it, but at the same time many misfortunes. Among them ethics and a real concern for the good of humanity.
Scientific research brought a lot of progress to the world, it is fair to admit it, but at the same time many misfortunes. Among them ethics and a real concern for the good of humanity. This is what the chemical-pharmaceutical multinationals, for example, have shown for a long time, aspects that we have dealt with in recent notes. One of the biggest sources of money for these companies has been pesticides, almost entirely infamous for their highly harmful effects on humans. Some of them have even achieved so much "success" at that point that they came to be applied during the Vietnam War by US forces - remember the famous "Agent Orange" -, which under the pretext of defollowing the forests to facilitate the search from the hiding places of the Vietnamese guerrillas, they ended the main livelihood of the settlers such as their rice fields and, worse still, they damaged the health of three million of them, whose survivors today continue to suffer the consequences.
In 1985, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), based in California, carried out a campaign in which for the first time the so-called “dirty dozen” were identified, the most dangerous agrochemicals in the world that are directly related to serious health problems and of environmental pollution. Among them are, for example, DDT, Parathion and its derivative, Methyl-parathion and 2,4-5, T (the already mentioned Agent Orange). Since then, the initial list of twelve products has grown to eighteen. One of the chemicals that was added to the updated roster is Lindane.
It is an organochlorine, volatile and persistent insecticide that, due to its chemical stability and its great affinity with fats, accumulates in the tissues of animals rich in these. It can migrate long distances through the air, in the form of vapors, or attached to sediments and soil particles. Due to its intensive use since the 1940s, its presence is detected in practically the entire environment in the world, even in areas where it was never used, such as in the Arctic. A fact that proves its dispersion and atmospheric transportation throughout the planet. Monitored studies carried out in various countries on adipose tissue, human milk and human blood serum found that Lindane and its isomers are present in almost all inhabitants of the world. And why the ease of the product to travel so much? This is how researchers on the topic of pollutants explain it: “When a chemical of this nature is used as a pesticide, it evaporates with the heat of the sun. Then the wind will move it in any direction and later, when the regions and nights become colder or when winter temperatures begin, the substance, already with little evaporation capacity, falls and remains on the ground. It is a cycle that is repeated year after year, so that anything that is used in parts of the world with warmer climates will tend to move towards colder climates and accumulate in the polar regions ”. Exactly the same is true of PCB dioxin, which we referred to in a previous note about multinational chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto.
Lindane is used as an insecticide in the control of agricultural pests, in public health or in pharmaceutical applications. In the period 1990-1995 some 3,500 tonnes of Lindane were produced worldwide, but today it is only synthesized in India, China and Romania, from where it is imported by other countries. However, as they became aware of its highly harmful effects on human and animal health, many of these countries prohibited its use. Despite these effects and everything that has been demonstrated in this regard, Asian regions such as India and Latin America such as Mexico are still strong consumers of the product.
Reports prepared by researchers such as Rosa María Infanzón, Octavio Carvajal, Stefan Waliszewski and Patricia Trujillo, from Mexico, reveal that Lindane has several acute and chronic health effects. In addition to current studies that identify it as a carcinogen, acute exposure basically affects the central nervous system, with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea followed by seizures. In acute poisonings there is inflammation of the digestive tract, bleeding, and coma. Also, by accumulating in the fats of the human body, Lindane can cross the placenta and affect the development of the fetus. People exposed at work for several years to the substance developed liver cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis. Children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of Lindane exposure, as we will see later. One of the forms of absorption of this product occurs when eating food contaminated by it.
In this regard, the FAO Codex Alimentarius (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) established in 1997 as an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for Lindane the amount of 0.001 milligrams per kilo of body weight. According to this rule, the maximum daily dose for an adult weighing 70 kilos should not exceed 0.07 milligrams. But the Codex data also reveals that currently a person who consumes a normal diet in any region of the world exceeds between 3.8 and 12 times the ADI for Lindane. Another important source of human ingestion of this substance is drinking water, and its presence has been detected on the surface of water, in industrial fumes, in sewers in the United States and Europe, and in rainwater in Tokyo. And in the Arctic, a kind of sink where large amounts of Lindane are deposited, which, as mentioned before, gets there after evaporating in warmer regions, the indigenous Inuit Eskimos are highly exposed, whose food source is the animals of the region, a food chain in turn contaminated by the absorption of the substance that goes from microorganisms to fish, seals and polar bears. These inhabitants of the Arctic, people and animals, are thus faced with an invisible threat that comes from the South.
Eye to the louse in Mexico
We recall a case that was widely publicized in the media at the time, that of the “mermaid baby” born a few years ago in Peru, Milagros Cerrón, who suffered from a malformation that caused her legs to be “stuck”. Dr. Luis Rubio, a surgeon who successfully operated on the girl, revealed that "The mother of the baby was in contact with insecticides during pregnancy due to her daily work in the fields", and that she had never had a medical check-up during her gestation period.
The fact is that the main victims of Lindane, today, are children, since although its use as a pesticide has been banned or restricted in many countries, it is still used pharmaceutically as an agent against lice and scabies. Dr. Irena Buka, a pediatrician from Alberta, Canada, maintains that “When used in scabies treatments, Lindane rubs against the child's body, is absorbed through the skin and can cause various harmful effects. It can affect the bone marrow, it can cause anemia and abnormalities in white blood cells and platelets, it can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and reproductive system. But the greatest damage can be done to the nervous system ".
This is a current reality among indigenous children in Mexico, since scabies is one of the ten main causes of infant mortality there and Lindane is used at discretion. Research has revealed that some Mexican children are exposed to levels of Lindane thirty times higher than in adults. If we take into account the maximum tolerable ADI -cited above- it is easy to take into account the poisonous load that Coahuila, Michoacán and Nuevo León have, in addition to Chiapas, and are associated with the population whose activity is agricultural and livestock. The fact is that Mexico, a country that seems to be reluctant to attend to the danger alerts about pesticides and pesticides in general that come from various parts of the world, continues to be committed to their use and also the authorities do not exercise any moderately acceptable control over them. Perhaps one of the reasons why in Mexico, since 1989, cancer is the second cause of death in the country.
This Mexican determination to "protect" their crops and combat pediculosis and scabies with various toxic products banned in other countries makes several companies that distribute them operate there. In the case of Lindane, only 14 tons of the product were imported in 2001, and according to the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks - an official body that seems limited only to registration and not to prevention - products against lice and scabies in forms of soaps, creams, shampoos or ointments containing Lindane are sold, among others, by Armstrong, Bruluat, Grisi-Grisi, Darier Laboratorios Best, Chinoin Scabisan, Astra Her-Klin, Lindano Normes Chemistry and Pharmacy and Piosiun Pharmaceuticals. For agricultural use there are three companies that commercialize Lindane: Agromundo, Industrial Engineering and Gustaffson Industries. It should be noted that the latter was bought in 2004 by the multinational Bayer - a true expert in planetary poisoning - and sells Lindane under the name Germate Plus. Bayer had also bought, in 2001, the company Aventis Crop Science, a merger of Laboratorios Helios, AgrEvo and Rhone Poulenc. In addition to spraying the indigenous people of Chiapas with Baygon, as mentioned above.
Eye to the louse in Argentina
Lindane, in its version as a pesticide, today has been banned in many countries, especially in the European Union, the United States and some in Latin America. Unfortunately, the same does not happen in Asia and Africa, where for convenience, laziness or corruption, the respective government authorities allow its importation and indiscriminate use, with dire consequences for many, all this facilitated by the lower cost of Lindane compared to other products since the respective customs do not register them as toxic pesticides. An example of the disasters it can cause, in addition to contaminating food and beverages, occurred in April 1990 when more than 100 people who had attended a wedding died in northern India, where Lindane powder had been added by mistake to the flour with which dinner was prepared. To these data it can be added that in addition to the indiscriminate use of Lindane and other pesticides, the aforementioned countries and others in the Third World receive, like garbage cans, toxic waste such as obsolete pesticides, drums with expired chemicals, etc., which are buried in those regions and that, despite the containers that contain them, inevitably are released over time and contaminate soils, water bodies and all material with which man has contact. It is estimated that Zambia in Africa alone currently contains more than 200,000 tons of toxic waste in its soils. Macabre gifts from the great powers to poor or underdeveloped countries, obviously under the protection of the corrupt authorities that allow them to be received.
Last December, in Chile, social and environmental organizations led by the Pesticides Action Network (RAP-Chile) began a campaign to ban the use of Lindane in the treatment of pediculosis and scabies, given its harmful effects on health and the environment. In this sense, María Elena Rozas, a member of RAP-Chile, declared : "It is shameful that Lindane, an organochlorine banned since 1998 by the Ministry of Agriculture for agricultural use, continues to be applied to the heads of our children." At the same time, the organization was editing an information manual and collecting signatures to send a letter to President Michelle Bachelet.
As for Argentina, inquiries made in the National Administration of Medicines, Foods and Medical Technology (ANMAT) - the Creole version of the notorious North American FDA (Foods and Drugs Agency), a government body that supposedly must ensure the health of citizens and that in fact he is an accomplice of the large chemical-pharmaceutical multinationals, as we revealed in previous notes - they showed as a result that Lindane is allowed for use in the treatment of lice and scabies. Specifically, the ANMAT indicates that "According to the Resolution of the Ministry of Health of the Nation No. 133/91, Lindane is allowed as a pediculicide and scabicide." A wake-up call for Argentine mothers and children, if it was thought that the country, at least in this regard, had stood alongside the decisions taken by developed countries regarding Lindane. However, this is not the case.
In any case, other inquiries made this time before the Toxicology Directorate of the Ricardo Gutiérrez Children's Hospital made it possible to establish that Lindane remains in force in some cases, at least until other alternatives are found, since it would be something effective in the dermatological treatment of patients. with AIDS and others affected by the so-called “Norwegian scabies”. The latter, a variant of scabies or common scabies, actually mimics it but covers larger areas in the human body, presenting as eczema, psoriasiform dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, or erythroderma. It generally appears in patients with special characteristics, such as malnourished, immunosuppressed -there are cases in patients with AIDS-, the elderly with poor medical care and children with Down syndrome. It includes the presence of scales, something unusual in common scabies, crusts and abrasions, compromising the scalp in some cases and also presenting palmoplantar hyperkeratotic plaques.
In the aforementioned Directorate of Toxicology - an organization that in fact investigates continuously despite the fact that the hard-working professionals who work there usually do not have the necessary support and resources - it was also reported that it is waiting to replace Lindane with other non-toxic alternative products. This wait may be due to Argentina's ancestral slowness in making decisions and executing them, but at least one of the commercial products that contained Lindane, Hexadecital, is already free of it. They are still valid, as products that include Lindane in their formula, Escabiasit, a shampoo against scabies, and Gamaescab, a lotion for the same purpose.
On the other hand, scientists from the National University of La Plata (UNLP) developed in 2003 a louse killer that they defined as "revolutionary", whose formula does not contain insecticides and also attacks lice in all their stages of life. This is how Marcela Gregori, a graduate in Ecology and Conservation of Renewable Natural Resources from UNLP, explained it: “This louse, called 'Standard XXI', does not have the traditional insecticides that other products of this type have, and it is also the only one that acts on all the life stages of the louse: the nit, the three nymphal stages and the louse adult". The patent of the product is shared by the University of La Plata and by the Swiss-Argentine Drug Store, and the funds that come in for the commercialization of the product "They will be used exclusively for the development of new scientific and technological research." A good example that sometimes you can do a lot with a little. Gregori also noted: "This is the first pediculicide developed entirely in Argentina and the formula is unprecedented, because among its components there are no permethrins, piratoids, piperonyl butoxic or lindane, classic insecticides that with their use over time allowed lice to develop mechanisms of resistance to the product ”. It is worth saying that, over time, Lindane can continue to kill or make people sick, but it ends up causing laughter to lice, mites and other critters. Currently the aforementioned non-toxic louse "Standard XXI" is marketed in pharmacies. Perhaps due to pressures, interests or other gadgets of the "stronger" brands, it is not easily found in the stocks, but it circulates normally, according to employees of that category.
Given all the above, and taking into account that the beginning of the school period is approaching, and that therefore the "sowing" of lice in schools will intensify - although the interested parties persist in denying it - by the "renowned brands" , derived in turn from chemical-pharmaceutical companies that are not interested in the preservation of human health, it only remains to warn the mothers of young children: beware of the louse. And especially, beware of lice with Lindane
* Carlos Machado