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What is Toxaphene?

Toxaphene, once widely used as a pesticide, is a complex mixture of chemicals with a notorious legacy of environmental persistence and toxicity. Banned globally due to its harmful effects on ecosystems and human health, its remnants still linger in soil and water. How does this banned substance still impact our world today? Join the conversation and uncover the ongoing relevance of toxaphene.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Toxaphene is a chemical compound which was once widely used as a pesticide. In the United States, it was commonly applied to cotton fields to limit infestation, and it was also used to manage unwanted fish populations. In 1982, the United States banned the use of toxaphene in most settings, and in 2004, a global ban on toxaphene and a laundry list of toxins known as the “dirty dozen” took effect under the terms of the Stockholm Convention.

This toxin was available in the form of a yellow to amber solid, which converted into a gaseous state when blended with water. People could apply toxaphene in the form of a spray. The chemical compound contains a complex mix of chemicals which varied slightly by manufacturer, explaining the variations in color.

Toxaphene was once used to limit infestations in cotton fields.
Toxaphene was once used to limit infestations in cotton fields.

This pesticide does not just kill insects and fish. It is also extremely dangerous to other animals, and poses a serious threat to human health. Toxaphene accumulates in the body, and is a known carcinogen. Exposure can cause damage to the kidneys, central nervous system, and lungs, and a large exposure can lead to death. Tests can be conducted to determine whether or not the chemical is present in a patient, and at what concentration.

The use of toxaphene as an insecticide has been banned in the U.S. since 1982.
The use of toxaphene as an insecticide has been banned in the U.S. since 1982.

All of these health problems led to bans on the chemical to limit exposure. Unfortunately, toxaphene does not readily break down, which means that there are large deposits of it in the natural environment. These deposits are found in landfills, around facilities where toxaphene was made, and in locations where it was used. The toxin leaches into the air and soil, posing an ongoing threat to people and animals which come into contact with it.

Also known as polychlorocamphene, chlorinated camphene, camphechlor, or chlorocamphene, this toxin is found at many sites recognized by government agencies as hazardous. Environmental cleanup can be used to remove some of the toxaphene in the environment and dispose of it in a safe way. Even with cleanup, however, lingering health effects are likely because the pesticide was so widely used that it is impossible to eliminate it from the environment entirely.

There are numerous alternatives to toxaphene available to people who have a need for insecticides to use in pest control. These alternatives are safer for the environment, either because they lack ingredients which are toxic for animals, or because they break down quickly, instead of lingering in the environment to cause harm.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AboutMechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AboutMechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Toxaphene was once used to limit infestations in cotton fields.
      Toxaphene was once used to limit infestations in cotton fields.
    • The use of toxaphene as an insecticide has been banned in the U.S. since 1982.
      By: Sly
      The use of toxaphene as an insecticide has been banned in the U.S. since 1982.