Pervasive and Deadly...

Anyone living in a home built before 1988 is most likely breathing the pesticide, Chlordane, every minute they are in the house.  In fact, research by the U.S. Air Force and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Regulation has found in tests of over 1000 homes that approximately 75% are contaminated with the chemical and 7% are over the maximum safe levels according to government guidelines (1).  These figures are suspected of being the same throughout the U.S.

Pure chlordane (C.A.S. 57-74-9) is a white crystalline solid with a mild, pungent odor.  It was originally used as a pesticide on field crops such as corn and citrus fruits, and later used to control termites in homes.  Its use and production were cancelled in April 1988, because of concern over cancer risk, evidence of human exposure and accumulation in body fat, persistence in the environment, and danger to wildlife.

All above-ground uses had stopped by 1983.  Between 1983 and 1988, chlordane was used only as a pesticide for termites. Chlordane is listed as a toxic chemical under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act; estimates of releases of existing chlordane into the air, water or land must be reported annually and entered into the national Toxic Release Inventory.

Chemical And Physical Properties:
Chlordane's chemical formula is C10H6Cl8.  It is a non-combustible liquid, but may be dissolved in flammable or combustible liquids for commercial use.  Chlordane itself does not burn, but will emit a poisonous gas if engulfed in fire.  Chlordane is very persistent in the environment, resisting chemical and biological degradation into harmless substances.  It is strongly bioaccumulated in fish and other aquatic organisms.

Health Effects:
Chlordane is a carcinogen.  It may damage a developing fetus and may decrease fertility in men and women.  It may damage the liver and kidneys and may cause an acne-like rash following contact with skin.  Breathing the vapor of chlordane or contacting skin with chlordane may cause convulsions, unconsciousness and death.

Lower exposures may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, vision problems, incoordination, irritability, muscle twitching, headaches, abdominal pain and vomiting.  The liquid may irritate the eyes and the skin, causing a rash or burning feeling on contact; exposure to the vapor can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.

Chlordane was the pesticide used to prevent or eliminate termites during the 1950's, 60's, 70's and 80's.  However, after many reports of serious illness among both adults and children following its application and links to cancer in animals, chlordane was finally banned by the EPA in March of 1988. Unfortunately, the ban did not take place until over 30 million homes throughout the U.S. had been treated.  Concerns in Florida are even greater because of the increased termite problem and the fact that research shows chlordane is higher in homes built on sandy soils.

Most homeowners are unaware that just before the concrete slab was poured for their home's foundation, a pesticide company had come in and saturated the soil with 100 gallons of chlordane per 1000 square feet of area.  People were literally building their homes on top of a toxic chemical dump.  The public was reassured by the pesticide industry and entomologists that this was a safe procedure and that the chemical would not enter into the home because of the barrier provided by the cement foundation. However, this turned out not to be the case.

Homes Remain Contaminated For Decades
Chlordane is such a highly toxic and persistent chemical that homes treated 20-30 years ago are still showing unsafe levels of chlordane in the indoor air.  The problem occurs because the hundreds of gallons of chlordane underneath the home are slowly evaporating, rising through cracks in the foundation or around plumbing pipes and entering the home.  One of the first studies to find there was a problem came in the 1970's when the U.S. Air Force randomly tested over 500 apartments and housing units of its airmen.  Results showed approximately 75% of the units tested contained chlordane in the air and over 5% were above the National Academy of Sciences "safety guidelines" of 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Unfortunately, this is turning out not to be an isolated case. Further studies by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Regulation and other agencies have found similar results in hundreds of homes in New Jersey and New York.  Of great concern, when testing 64 homes built before 1980, researchers found more than 30% of the homes contained chlordane levels above the safety limits set by the National Academy of Sciences.

Chlordane Found To Cause Immune System Damage

An excellent test to determine how well a person's immune system is functioning is called "proliferative response." This test measures how fast a person's immune system cells multiply in order to eliminate invading bacteria or viruses.  In several different tests of proliferative response, conducted at the Southern Illinois School of Medicine (4), it was found that people living in chlordane treated homes had immune system cells that multiplied only about half as fast as immune system cells of people not exposed to chlordane.  (This provides an explanation for the increase in infections shown in the previous study.)  In another immune system test conducted by the same scientists, eleven of twelve chlordane exposed people were found to have a condition known as autoimmunity.  This is where the person's own immune system mistakenly attacks their own self, which the researchers stated can then result in a variety of other illnesses.

EPA estimated that approximately 3.5 to 4 million pounds of chlordane were distributed in 1986.  The Velsicol Chemical Company in Marshall, Indiana, was the only domestic manufacturer of chlordane when EPA cancelled its commercial production and use.  During the mid 1970s, chlordane was used as follows: 35% for pest control, mostly termites; 30% for home lawn and garden use; 28% on agricultural crops; and 7% on turf and ornamental shrubs.  Chlordane is not imported into the United States.

On April 15, 1988, the sale, distribution, and use of chlordane were prohibited.  It is illegal to dump existing chlordane supplies into sinks, toilets, storm drains, or any body of water.  During 1987, before the use of chlordane was banned, 2,614 pounds of the pesticide were released into the air, according to a recent report by the National Wildlife Federation.  The only three states in which chlordane was released were Illinois (884 pounds), Mississippi (500 pounds), and Tennessee (1,230 pounds).

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