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ToxFAQs™ for Aldrin/Dieldrin
CAS#: 309-00-2 (Aldrin); 60-57-1 (Dieldrin)
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about aldrin and dieldrin. For more information, you may call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
Exposure to aldrin and dieldrin happens mostly from eating contaminated foods, such as root crops, fish, or seafood. Aldrin and dieldrin build up in the body after years of exposure and can affect the nervous system. Aldrin has been found in at least 207 of the 1,613 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Dieldrin has been found in at least 287 of the 1,613 sites.
What are aldrin and dieldrin?
Aldrin and dieldrin are insecticides with similar chemical structures. They are discussed together in this fact sheet because aldrin quickly breaks down to dieldrin in the body and in the environment. Pure aldrin and dieldrin are white powders with a mild chemical odor. The less pure commercial powders have a tan color. Neither substance occurs naturally in the environment
From the 1950s until 1970, aldrin and dieldrin were widely used pesticides for crops like corn and cotton. Because of concerns about damage to the environment and potentially to human health, EPA banned all uses of aldrin and dieldrin in 1974, except to control termites. In 1987, EPA banned all uses.
What happens to aldrin and dieldrin when they enter the environment?
- Sunlight and bacteria change aldrin to dieldrin so that we mostly find dieldrin in the environment.
- They bind tightly to soil and slowly evaporate to the air.
- Dieldrin in soil and water breaks down very slowly.
- Plants take in and store aldrin and dieldrin from the soil.
- Aldrin rapidly changes to dieldrin in plants and animals.
- Dieldrin is stored in the fat and leaves the body very slowly.
How might I be exposed to aldrin and dieldrin?
- Dieldrin is everywhere in the environment, but at very low levels.
- Eating food like fish or shellfish from lakes or streams contaminated with either chemical, or contaminated root crops, dairy products, or meats.
- Air, surface water, or soil near waste sites may contain higher levels.
- Living in homes that were once treated with aldrin or dieldrin to control termites.
How can aldrin and dieldrin affect my health?
People who intentionally or accidentally ingested large amounts of aldrin or dieldrin suffered convulsions and some died. Health effects may also occur after a longer period of exposure to smaller amounts because these chemicals build up in the body.
Some workers exposed to moderate levels in the air for a long time had headaches, dizziness, irritability, vomiting, and uncontrolled muscle movements. Workers removed from the source of exposure rapidly recovered from most of these effects.
Animals exposed to high amounts of aldrin or dieldrin also had nervous system effects. In animals, oral exposure to lower levels for a long period also affected the liver and decreased their ability to fight infections. We do not know whether aldrin or dieldrin affect the ability of people to fight disease.
Studies in animals have given conflicting results about whether aldrin and dieldrin affect reproduction in male animals and whether these chemicals may damage the sperm. We do not know whether aldrin or dieldrin affect reproduction in humans.
How likely are aldrin and dieldrin to cause cancer?
There is no conclusive evidence that aldrin or dieldrin cause cancer in humans. Aldrin and dieldrin have shown to cause liver cancer in mice. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that aldrin and dieldrin are not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity. The EPA has determined that aldrin and dieldrin are probable human carcinogens.
How can aldrin and dieldrin affect children?
Children can be exposed to aldrin and dieldrin in the same way as adults. There are no known unique exposure pathways for children. Children who swallowed amounts of aldrin or dieldrin much larger than those found in the environment suffered convulsions and some died, as occurred in adults. However, we do not know whether children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of aldrin or dieldrin.
We do not know whether aldrin or dieldrin cause birth defects in humans. Pregnant animals that ingested aldrin or dieldrin had some babies with low birth weight and some with alterations in the skeleton. Dieldrin has been found in human breast milk, therefore, it can be passed to suckling infants.
How can families reduce their risk for exposure to aldrin and dieldrin?
- Since aldrin and dieldrin are no longer produced or used, exposure to these compounds will occur only from past usage.
- Because aldrin and dieldrin were applied to the basement of some homes for termite protection, before buying a home families should investigate what, if any, pesticides have been used within the home.
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to aldrin and dieldrin?
There are laboratory tests that can measure aldrin and dieldrin in your blood, urine, and body tissues. Because aldrin changes to dieldrin fairly quickly in the body, the test has to be done shortly after you are exposed to aldrin. Since dieldrin can stay in the body for months, measurements of dieldrin can be made much longer after exposure to either aldrin or dieldrin. The tests cannot tell you whether harmful health effects will occur. These tests are not routinely available at the doctor's office because they require special equipment.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The EPA limits the amount of aldrin and dieldrin that may be present in drinking water to 0.001 and 0.002 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of water, respectively, for protection against health effects other than cancer. The EPA has determined that a concentration of aldrin and dieldrin of 0.0002 mg/L in drinking water limits the lifetime risk of developing cancer from exposure to each compound to 1 in 10,000.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets a maximum average of 0.25 milligrams of aldrin and dieldrin per cubic meter of air (0.25 mg/m3) in the workplace during an 8-hour shift, 40 hour week. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also recommends a limit of 0.25 mg/m3 for both compounds for up to a 10-hour work day, 40-hour week.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the residues of aldrin and dieldrin in raw foods. The allowable range is from 0 to 0.1 ppm, depending on the type of food product.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2002. Toxicological Profile for Aldrin/Dieldrin. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-57
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO · 888-232-6348 (TTY)
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.
Information line and technical assistance:
To order toxicological profiles, contact:
National Technical Information Service
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Springfield, VA 22161
Phone: 800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000
Some PDF files may be electronic conversions from paper copy or other electronic ASCII text files. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors. Users are referred to the original paper copy of the toxicological profile for the official text, figures, and tables. Original paper copies can be obtained via the directions on the toxicological profile home page, which also contains other important information about the profiles.
The information contained here was correct at the time of publication. Please check with the appropriate agency for any changes to the regulations or guidelines cited.
- Page last reviewed: March 3, 2011
- Page last updated: October 27, 2011
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry