HL Deb 07 December 1995 vol 567 cc1046-7

3.18 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which is the main route of absorption into the human body of the organophosphate malathion.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, there are many hundreds of organophosphates. Malathion is widely used as it is one of the least toxic. When used as a medication or pesticide, there is a very limited amount of absorption, mainly through the skin.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Why do we pour malathion on the heads of small children when we do not know what are the effects of low-level applications over a long period of time on the immune system and central nervous system, which are not fully developed in such children? We also allow it to be used by pregnant mothers. We know that malathion passes into the foetus. There have been reports of deformities in young children. Is the Minister aware of the work of Rodgers and Ellefson, indicating that: an allergic-type response was occurring within four hours after exposure to malathion at concentrations over a thousand times lower than levels known to produce inhibition of acetylcholinesterase"? I wonder whether that could account for the increase in allergies and behavioural problems in young children. Will the Minister instigate research into this matter?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I understand that there have been a number of studies undertaken in order to license the medicines and pesticides, which would include shampoos and lotions. I draw the attention of the noble Countess in particular to the one published in the IARC monograph of 1983. They include lifetime studies on animals, which is usual for data supplied for registration. However, I can assure the noble Countess that we are absolutely confident that there is no danger to children from using shampoos and lotions containing. malathion.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the articles in the journal Pesticide Reform, a reputable scientific journal, which underline the dangers to human beings of the use of malathion? Is she also aware of a recent report by the Agriculture Committee in another place which recommended that organophosphates used on animals should be on a "prescription only" basis? Does she agree that, in view of the known dangers of malathion, the recommendation should also apply to its use on humans?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I understand that the intensity of malathion for human use in terms of shampoos and lotions is absolutely minuscule compared with that used for pesticides. The noble Lord is right in that we have taken action with regard to pesticides. However, I am assured that there is no need to do so with regard to shampoos and lotions. Of course, there are two products on the market which do not contain malathion.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government are actively promoting the bug busting campaign? If not, would they consider doing so, especially as it does not promote any of the apparently damaging chemicals?

Baroness Cumberlege

Yes, my Lords, we support Community Hygiene Concern which runs that campaign. Over the three years starting this year we are giving it £25,000 in order to help it take forward its programme.