Chlordane is a mixture of over fifty synthetic chemicals. It has been used as a pesticide, particularly for termite control in houses, and on crops, notably corn. Use of chlordane was stopped mainly because of concern over cancer risk, evidence of human exposure and build up in body fat, persistence in the environment, and danger to wildlife. This compound stays in the environment for many years. It is still found in food, air, water, and soil of areas where its use has been banned for many years, and is also present in some form in the fat of almost all humans and at high levels in the Arctic.
Chlordane affects the nervous system, the digestive system, and liver. Short-term exposure to high levels of chlordane in air can cause nervous effects and digestive upset. Heavy exposure to chlordane can cause convulsions or death. It is also a suspected carcinogen. Chlordane can enter the body through skin contact, through the lungs if breathed in, and through the digestive tract if swallowed. Uptake through the skin and digestive tract is increased if chlordane is in an oily mixture. Breakdown products of chlordane may be stored in body fat for long periods of time. It may take months or years before most of the chlordane that enters the body is able to leave.
Chlordane is a tan, glassy substance (almost solid) that has a mild, irritating smell. Because it does not dissolve in water, before it can be used, it must be placed in water with emulsifiers (soap-like substances) to make a milky-looking mixture of liquid particles.
Almost every person in the USA has been exposed to small amounts of the chemical and has low levels of chlordane metabolites in their body fat. The highest exposures to people today are from living in houses that were treated with chlordane for termites and from eating foods prepared from plants grown on chlordane-treated fields and the fat of meat and milk from animals that eat grass from chlordane-treated fields.
Even though the US had banned chlordane for use in 1978, until 1999 it was still manufactured there exported in large quantities for export.