Daily News Archive

Lobster Die-Off Linked to West Nile Virus Pesticides
(from March 11, 2003)

Scientific data released Friday, March 7, 2003 shows that it takes far less pesticide than previously thought to kill adult lobsters, according to the Connecticut Post. Lobstermen say these data provide concrete evidence that pesticides used in spray programs to combat West Nile virus caused the massive 1999 lobster die-off in Long Island Sound. Meanwhile, in a 42-page decision, U.S. District Judge Thomas C. Platt certified as a class on February 28, 2003 any lobstermen who had valid harvesting licenses from the states of New York or Connecticut and who, beginning in September 1999, suffered damages. It is expected that 300 commercial lobstermen will join the class, which is suing four chemical manufacturers or distributors who sold the chemicals placed in storm drains or sprayed by helicopter or truck in New York and Connecticut.

"It really doesn't take much to kill lobsters," pathobiologist Sylvain DeGuise told attendees at the Long Island Sound Health Symposium. Researchers at University of Connecticut found a mere 33 parts-per-billion of methoprene killed off half the lobsters in a 20-gallon tank. "That's [equivalent] to one drop in a billion, or one person in China," DeGuise said.

Methoprene is an insect growth regulator, which is applied to many home and community pest control problems as a general use, slow-acting insecticide. This chemical has been used to control a number of pests, including mosquitoes (AltosidTM).Pathobiologists also want to analyze the impact of other pesticides such as resmethrin and malathion in both juvenile and adult lobster mortality.
The lobstermen at the conference used DeGuise's report to hammer state officials into disclosing how much malathion, resmethrin and other pesticides Connecticut applied in 1999 to fend off West Nile mosquitoes. That information, the lobstermen say, has never been turned over to the public.

By contrast, state law in New York requires the state Department of Health to maintain a database of all pesticide applications anywhere in New York. The database, however, is only accessible to researchers. "It's an incredibly unwieldy database. You have to input the zip code you're looking at, a range of dates, as well as all of the [known] names for a given pesticide," said Karen Chytalo, a Department of Environmental Conservation marine habitat and protection section chief.

DeGuise said researchers are interested in knowing how much pesticide may have flowed into Long Island Sound in 1999 when West Nile fever first emerged in New York.

Unfortunately, the lobsters are gone for good. However, the Long Island Sound Lobster Association concern is the revitalization of this species. The association wants to know where all this information exhibiting harmful impacts on lobsters is headed. DeGuise responded that researchers hoped to provide "building blocks for better management" of the lobster habitat, as well as "hard data that can not be brushed off by anyone."