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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 01:06 GMT


Immediate pesticide ban demanded

Ripe apples: Less inviting, perhaps, if they had been sprayed with lindane

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The UK Government is being urged to withdraw a widely-used pesticide from sale with immediate effect.

Rachel Ellison reports on growing calls to suspend the use of lindane in the UK
The chemical is lindane, which is used to kill insects on crops and in timber.

The call to ban it comes from Friends of the Earth, the Pesticides Trust, the Women's Environmental Network, and the trade union Unison.

All four have written to the Agriculture Minister, Jeff Rooker, and his environment counterpart, Michael Meacher, asking them to order an immediate halt to sales.

They base their demand on a confidential leaked European Union report, which has been seen by reporters on the BBC's Newsnight programme, which recommends an end to sales of lindane.

The report, prepared by Austria's agriculture ministry, was sent to Brussels in December, but the EU has yet to take any action on it.

Gaps in knowledge

The Austrian report says lindane is a possibly carcinogenic substance, and not enough is known about it.

Dr Devra Lee Davis, a toxicologist with the World Resources Institute: "It is an insidious compound"
It also describes the chemical as an endocrine disrupter, and says it causes behavioural changes, damage to the nervous and immune systems, and birth defects.

For carcinogenicity, hormone disruption, behavioural change and immunotoxicity, the report says the data - obtained from tests on rats and mice - is scarce.

[ image: Oilseed rape is often treated with lindane]
Oilseed rape is often treated with lindane
It says not enough is known to establish clearly either a "no observed effect level" (NOEL), or a "no observed adverse effect level" (NOAEL).

The Austrians say not enough about whether birds and small mammals feeding on seeds treated with lindane could be at risk.

But a study of fish showed very high lindane levels, which implied the chemical had accumulated through the food chain.

Relic of a less demanding age

David Buffin, of the Pesticides Trust, says: "It is surprising to see how little adequate data supports the continued approval of lindane.

"But it was a pesticide developed in the 1940s, at a time when far less attention was paid to detailed experimentation required to prove a chemical was safe."

Lindane is sold in Britain for treating seeds and wood, and is also used as a crop spray.

[ image: Insect infestation in timber is a frequent use]
Insect infestation in timber is a frequent use
Oilseed rape, apples, sugar beet, wheat, and maize are treated with it.

Lindane is also sometimes used on rough grazing, and in grain stores.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) says 100,000 kg were used in the UK in 1997.

The four groups calling for a ban say it is still possible for EU member countries to outlaw chemicals like lindane on a national basis.

The Countess of Mar, who sits on a parliamentary committee scrutinising EU legislation, says it is time to ban lindane.
Lindane is banned already in two EU states, Sweden and Denmark.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for licensing the chemical for some uses, says national bans are not possible.

Evidence not conclusive

It also says they might not be much use, because goods treated with lindane could still enter Britain from countries which had not banned it.

The HSE and the MAFF both reviewed lindane in 1996 and found insufficient evidence to ban it.

An HSE spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "We are comfortable with its use."

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