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IARC Monographs evaluate DDT, lindane, and herbicide 2,4-D

The Working Group was chaired by Manolis Kogevinas

Tuesday, June 23th, 2015

IARC Monographs evaluate DDT, lindane, and herbicide 2,4-D

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the insecticides gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane (lindane) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).

After thoroughly reviewing the latest available scientific literature, a Working Group of 26 experts from 13 countries, chaired by Manolis Kogevinas, Joint Scientific Director and researcher at CREAL, an ISGlobal allied center, convened by the IARC Monographs Programme classified the insecticide lindane as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). There was sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of lindane for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

“Research on cancer effects of exposure to pesticides in humans has been very difficult. This is first time in the last 30 years that a pesticide (Lindane) is classified as human carcinogen (Group 1 in IARC’s classification), although we know that many of the pesticides used are proven carcinogens in animals.  The evaluation of DDT as a probable carcinogen (Group 2A) is also important. DDT had been among the most frequently used insecticides worldwide. Its use was limited and, in most countries, banned due to the extensive damaging effects on the environment.  These evaluations indicate that there clearly has to be much more effort in investigating and preventing the adverse effects of pesticides in humans”, explains Kogevinas.

The classification of DDT, herbicide 2,4-D and lindane

The insecticide DDT was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on sufficient evidence that DDT causes cancer in experimental animals and limited evidence of its carcinogenicity in humans. Epidemiological studies found positive associations between exposure to DDT and NHL, testicular cancer, and liver cancer. There was also strong experimental evidence that DDT can suppress the immune system and disrupt sex hormones. However, overall there was no association between breast cancer and DDT levels measured in samples of blood or fat.

The herbicide 2,4-D was classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on inadequate evidence in humans and limited evidence in experimental animals. Epidemiological studies provided strong evidence that 2,4-D induces oxidative stress, a mechanism that can operate in humans, and moderate evidence that 2,4-D causes immunosuppression, based on in vivo and in vitro studies. However, epidemiological studies did not find strong or consistent increases in risk of NHL or other cancers in relation to 2,4-D exposure.

The uses of Lindane, DDT and 2,4-D

Lindane has been used extensively for insect control, including in agriculture and for treatment of human lice and scabies. High exposures have occurred among agricultural workers and pesticide applicators; however, the use of lindane is now banned or restricted in most countries. Large epidemiological studies of agricultural exposures in the USA and Canada showed a 60% increased risk of NHL in those exposed to lindane.

DDT was introduced for the control of insect-borne diseases during the Second World War and was later applied widely to eradicate malaria and in agriculture. Although most uses of DDT were banned from the 1970s, DDT and its breakdown products are highly persistent and can be found in the environment and in animal and human tissues throughout the world. Exposure to DDT still occurs, mainly through diet. The remaining and essential use of DDT is for disease vector control, mainly for malaria. This use is strictly restricted under the Stockholm Convention.

Since its introduction in 1945, 2,4-D has been widely used to control weeds in agriculture, forestry, and urban and residential settings. Occupational exposures to 2,4-D can occur during manufacturing and application, and the general population can be exposed through food, water, dust, or residential application, and during spraying.

A summary of the final evaluations is available online in The Lancet Oncology, and the detailed assessments will be published as Volume 113 of the IARC Monographs.


Loomis, Dana et al. Carcinogenicity of lindane, DDT, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. The Lancet Oncology. June 23th, 2015.

Picture: Wikipedia // Roy Bateman.



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