Cancer link leads to ban on sale of headlice remedies

Pesticide fears: Warning follows animal tests
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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Four brands of headlice remedies are to be banned from over-the-counter sales in pharmacies because the pesticide they contain has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals, the Department of Health said yesterday.

New restrictions are also to be introduced for carbaryl-containing pesticides used by gardeners and poulterers, while extra-protective measures are being introduced for people who may have occupational exposure to carbaryl.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) said there was no risk to consumers from the low levels of carbaryl residue in some foods. Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, said yesterday that action to restrict the availability of shampoos and lotions containing carbaryl to prescription was "precautionary only. This is not a cancer scare''.

Dr Calman added: "There are no reports that the use of carbaryl has led to cancer in humans. But in the absence of any firm toxicological evidence to the contrary, prudence dictates that we must assume that what happens in laboratory animals - rats and mice - could conceivably happen in humans."

There are an estimated 60,000 cases of headlice a year but around 3 million bottles of remedies are sold annually. Carbaryl-containing products account for about 10 per cent of the market, and in addition to pharmacy sales, 132,000 prescriptions were written for it last year. The new restriction will apply to Carylderm lotion and shampoo; Clinicide lotion; Derbac-C lotion and shampoo; and Suleo-C lotion and shampoo, and will take effect from January 1996. People who have any of these products on their bathroom shelves are being told to "bag them and bin them" by the DoH.

Pharmacists are being told to recommend alternative treatments available without prescription. These are: Derbac-M, Prioderm lotion/shampoo, and Suleo-M, which contain the pesticide malathion; Lyclear Creme Rinse (permethrin); and Full Marks (phenothrin).

In addition to its use as a pesticide, carbaryl is used in some veterinary medicines, flea collars and animal shampoos. A MAFF expert committee, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, said that humans were unlikely to be exposed to concentrations as high as those used in laboratory tests. However, some products are being banned while the safety of carbaryl in animal medicines is being reviewed. "The aim is to reduce human exposure to carbaryl," a spokes-man for MAFF said.

t More information on the DoH Helpline: 0800 665544.