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Environmental Watchdog Sounds Alarm on Pesticides Used in Lice Products

Environmental Watchdog Sounds Alarm on Pesticides Used in Lice Products

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend its study of pyrethroids until it can include six studies on links to the pesticide’s impact on childhood cognitive and psychological development.

Claiming that a “crucial decision on pesticides and kids is looming,” the EWG is concerned that health affects on children won’t be considered in the decision.

The EWG is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that sponsors research and education to “drive consumer choice and civic action” that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.

“When pyrethroid insecticides were developed, they were touted as a safer alternative for controlling insects,” the EWG said. “But six recent studies find that pyrethroids may pose risks to a child’s brain and behavioral development similar to those of organophosphates. This includes permethrin, which the Department of Agriculture has detected on three-fourths of samples of conventionally grown spinach, and which is also used in lice shampoos, mosquito-repellent clothing, and other household pest treatments.”

Pyrethroids are neurotoxins that kill insects by disrupting the central nervous system and paralyzing the bugs. Pyrethroids are the active ingredient in the most popular over-the-counter (OTC) head lice products, and have been used so much that most lice in countries where the products are sold are now resistant to the insecticides. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that 98 percent of lice in most U.S. states are now resistant to pyrethroids, making the products at once ineffective, and continual usage risky.

In one study of more than 600 American children 8 to 15 years old, those with detectable pyrethroid residues in their urine were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as other children. Another study found a link between pyrethroid exposure and premature puberty in boys. Previous research shows that early puberty increases the risk of diseases in adulthood, for example, testicular cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Early puberty also can stunt growth and cause behavioral problems.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that children 6 to 11 years old have greater exposures to pyrethroids than teens and adults. Exposures to one key pyrethroid metabolite—a chemical formed by the breakdown of the pesticide in the human body—increased by 50 percent in children between 2000 and 2010,” the EWG said.

“We implored the EPA to assess the results of the six recent studies linking children’s pyrethroid exposures to brain and behavioral changes,” the EWG wrote.

Parents that want to limit their children’s exposure to pyrethroids might want to think twice about using OTC lice treatment products. Fortunately, alternatives are available that are both safer and more effective. Lice Clinics of America has pioneered a new line of lice treatment products developed by scientists and researchers at the University of Utah. The company’s signature product, AirAllé, is an FDA-cleared Class I medical device clinically proven to kill live lice and more than 99 percent of eggs using carefully controlled warm air to dehydrate the lice. There are no chemicals involved. Treatment is available at hundreds of Lice Clinics of America treatment centers in more than 30 countries.

For more information or to find a clinic, visit

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