The controversial insecticide lindane could be subject to a partial ban by the Europe Union's 15 member countries within 18 months.
The EU's Standing Committee on Plant Health recommended the ban Thursday. It is expected to be formally approved by the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, responsible for proposing legislation.
Countries will be given six months to withdraw approval for lindane products designed to be used on plants, plus a further 12 months to use up stocks of these products. Use of lindane in domestic products such as ant killer will still be permitted.
Last year, an EU report, prepared by the Austrian government, called for sales of the chemical to be suspended because of concerns about lindane's effect on human health.
The Austrian report listed lindane as a carcinogenic substance with no safe exposure limit. It said lindane could damage the immune system and nervous system while causing hormone disruption, behavioral changes and birth defects.
Lindane has been described by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a possible human carcinogen and has been linked with breast cancer and birth defects.
The pesticide is already banned for agricultural use in Sweden, Denmark and France and is subject of a long running worldwide campaign by the international environmental group Pesticides Action Network (PAN).
David Buffin, of PAN's United Kingdom branch was pleased with the EU committee's announcement. "We have been warning for many years that lindane should be banned. At long last we are being listened to," said Buffin. "This pesticide was developed in the 1940s when cheap and relatively hazardous chemicals were considered acceptable. It should have no place in the 21st century."
Buffin and representatives of other environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth, expressed disappointment that the ban does not extend to lindane's use as a domestic product.
Helen Lynn of Women's Environmental Network said, "Whilst we welcome today's decision we are disappointed that the public will still be exposed to this dangerous chemical in the home."
The standing committee on plant health made its decision during a review of nine pesticides. The committee will eventually have to accept or reject a total of 900 pesticides. Another two substances considered last week -- permethrin and quintozene -- will also be banned.
Another three -- bentazone, esfenvalerate and triasulfuron -- will be included in the official list of EU approved pesticides, bringing the total so far to eight.
From July 2003, only substances on this list will be eligible for use in the European Union. Decisions on the others were postponed.
The European Crop Protection Association said it could not comment on individual pesticides but stressed that the EU pesticide review program is so far behind schedule that newly developed pesticides with better environmental profiles are finding it difficult to reach the marketplace.
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