Lindane and Legal Battles
Lindane is a chemical with a storied past. Historically, the military used it as a key ingredient in Agent Orange and farmers used it as a pesticide until it was banned for such purposes. More recently, chemical companies added lindane to childrens' shampoo and topical lotions to kill lice and other parasites. However, lindane is highly toxic. It is a bioaccumulative toxic pesticide, meaning that when applied to the scalp, the brain, bloodstreem, and neurmuscular systems absorb it. Lindane is a possible carcinogen and can damage the nervous system, liver, and immune system. Ultimately, the EPA banned its use as a pesticide in 2006. Yet, chemical companies continued to use it in other kinds of topical treatments.
The Ecology Center urged the Michigan Legislator to ban lindane due to its toxicity, handing the legislature key documents and fact sheets showing that the chemical was incredibly dangerous. It worked with the Michigan Network of Children’s Environmental Health to raise awareness about safer alternatives.
The same year the EPA banned use of lindane as a pesticide due to its toxicity, Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals, a producer of lindane-containing lice treatments, sued the Ecology Center for defamation and libelous claims after it reached out to the Michigan Legislature. The Ecology Center disputed the claims from Morton Grove, arguing that they had a right to provide legislators with relevant information about policy. Most of the claims were related to the Ecology Center publishing fact sheets on Lindane. These fact sheets gathered information from environmental and government organizations including the FDA and EPA, showing the detrimental impacts of the pesticide on people and alternatives. The Ecology Center created a list of statements they could make clarifications on to quell accusations from Morton Grove that some of their statements were “false and highly” defamatory. The Ecology Center tried to make clarifications and work with Morton Grove in order to reach an end amenable to both parties, yet Morton Grove pursused litigation. The Ecology Center criticised this as a SLAPP suit - strategic lawsuits against public participation where large corporations attempt to silence critics through burdensome legal costs.
Throughout this lawsuit, the Ecology Center continued to work to phase out lindane. House Bill 5574 was introduced, which would remove pharmaceutical uses of lindane. In 2007, US District Court Judge Elaine Bucklo dismissed the lawsuit. The Ecology Center did not have to pay any damages or claim any liability, as Morton Grove dropped the lawsuit at the end of the settlement.
That summer, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to restrict the use of lindane in lice and scabies treatments. The following year, The Michigan House Great Lakes and Environment committee voted 11-3 to pass HB 4402 to restrict the use of lindane, and only allowed for lindane to be used in pharmaceutical products in Michigan under the supervision of a physician in their office.
In the end, the Ecology Center's advocacy work during the SLAPP suit won Michiganders, particularly children living in the state, massive victories by way of HB 5574, and HB 4402, which severely restricted the use of lindane.