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State Lawmakers Question Pesticide and Its Link To Lobster Die-Off

(Beyond Pesticides, February 11, 2009) Connecticut lawmakers are taking an interest in the much debated cause of a massive die-off of lobsters that has all but wiped out the state’s 40 million dollar industry, according to the Easton Courier. Fishermen and environmentalists blame the use of the insecticide malathion, a hazardous organophosphate, currently used in community mosquito eradication programs, however the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) argues that there is not enough scientific data to lead to the banning of the chemical.

The huge die-off of lobsters began in 1999, days after towns in Fairfield County, Westchester County and Long Island, as well as New York City, sprayed malathion to kill mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus. Also at that time, remnants of hurricane Floyd drenched the state and washed the pesticide into Long Island Sound. The DEP, however, says the storm caused many other factors that led to the mass die-off. However, the lobster population has yet to recover. State lawmakers find DEP’s position on malathion puzzling. Rep. Richard Roy (D-Milford), chair of the House Environment Committee, and Senate Assistant Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwal) are questioning DEP about its efforts to restore the state’s lobster industry while ignoring industry experts on the effects of pesticides lobstermen say continue to kill the animals. To date, Connecticut has spent $1 million trying to restore the lobster fishery and could spend another $200,000 on the program.

“They’re trying to restore an industry, but they don’t listen to the industry about potential problems with pesticides. That’s odd,” Rep. Roy said. “It doesn’t make much sense to work to restore the lobster fishery if we’re allowing chemicals to keep killing the lobsters.”

“It’s time we stop looking at Long Island Sound like it’s just a recreational body of water and start looking at it like it’s a job site. We lost an entire industry on the Sound,” said Rep. Duff. “If we had a massive die-off on a farm in northern Connecticut, you can bet the DEP would still be conducting tests and would ban everything to find out why. I don’t understand why it’s different with the Sound.”

President of the Connecticut Lobstermen’s Association, Nick Crismale, says that restoration to the fishery would not succeed if the use of malathion were to continue. “We know. We were there. We saw what can only be the effects of pesticide poisoning. If the DEP doesn’t do something about the pesticides, there’s no way we can restore the lobsters,” says Mr. Crismale.

The DEP insists that water conditions, as well as a parasite killed the lobsters rather than a particular chemical. However, the School of Pathobiology and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Connecticut, in a test it conducted in 2003, found even minute traces of malathion can have lethal effects on lobsters. According to the UConn study, 0.55 parts per billion of malathion – equivalent to a teaspoon of chemical in an Olympic-sized swimming pool – either kills lobsters outright or severely degrades its immune system.

Mr. Crismale notes that attempts at the Lobster Institute of the University of Maine to infect healthy lobsters with the parasite the Stony Brook report cited failed. “A healthy lobster killed the parasite,” he said. “Lobsters affected by pesticides died. You be the judge.” To this he adds that there is more than enough circumstantial evidence for the DEP to act on the side of caution.

“We really don’t know what the killed the lobsters,” Mr. Crismale said. “But we are trying to bring them back, and we are spending money. I think the only way to find out is to begin to eliminate possible causes. We can’t do much to change the water temperatures. We can do something about pesticide use. If we eliminate the pesticide, and the lobsters get better, then we know we’re onto something.”

Malathion, used by many states as part of a mosquito control program, is an organophosphate (OP) insecticide that contaminates many water resources across the country. Malathion, like many other organophosphates, is linked to a host of adverse human and environmental. OPs are neurotoxic, disrupting normal nerve impulse transmission in organisms. Research shows that organophosphates are toxic to amphibians, birds, fish, and other aquatic organisms. A 2007 U.S. Geological Survey study found malathion’s breakdown product 10-100 times more toxic to amphibians than the parent product. Many OPs are already banned in England, Sweden and Denmark.

Source: Easton Courier


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