Waterborne chemicals leached from plastics and detergents, including bisphenol A (BPA), may have contributed to significant lobster die-offs in the waters of Long Island Sound over the last decade, researchers say.
Hans Laufer, a research professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has found that by interfering with hormones crucial to young lobster growth, chemicals such as bisphenol A can slow the lobsters’ molting patterns and interfere with regular development, leading to body deformations, susceptibility to disease, and potential death.
As many as half of the lobsters tested in areas where lobster populations have plunged showed high levels of alkylphenols, a group of chemicals derived from detergents, paints, and plastics, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut.
Those chemicals interfere with hormones crucial to the growth of young lobsters, doubling the time it takes for lobsters to molt their shells and create new hard shells, and making them more susceptible to disease, said Hans Laufer, a research professor in the university’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
The lobsters are consuming these chemicals with their food, including mollusks that filter the chemicals from the water. Lobster shell disease has caused a large drop in lobster populations since the late-1990s in the Sound, with the annual Connecticut lobster catch plummeting to about one-sixth of 1998 levels.
Laufer will join researchers from 15 other New England institutions this week to present the results of a three-year, $3 million research initiative at the 9th Annual Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium, taking place at the University of Rhode Island. The New England Lobster Research Initiative examined the causes of lobster shell disease and the contributing factors that make lobsters vulnerable to the disease.
Chemicals like alkylphenols are washed into waterways mainly from landfill and water treatment facilities, and eventually find their way to the ocean. Of the about 1 million tons of BPA produced annually, 60 percent of it ends up in the ocean.
Laufer says that the only way to reduce the chemicals’ impact on living things is to reduce our use of plastics.
“Plastics are everywhere, but plastic recycling is easy,” he says. “We need to reuse plastics instead of throwing them away, and increase our use of plastic substitutes, like cardboard and glass bottles.”
Aside from being a concern for the fisheries industry, Laufer also thinks that alkylphenol contamination is a serious threat to human health. About 90 percent of the U.S. population are also contaminated with alkylphenols, which in some cases – such as BPA – have been shown to affect human reproduction. The effects of many other alkylphenols remain largely unknown, but he suspects that if they are hazardous to lobsters, they’re probably hazardous to humans, too.
“This is as big a threat to human health as tobacco,” Laufer says. “Many companies are saying that they’re safe, but they’re not.”
Lobster populations in a large swath of the Atlantic Ocean have declined so much that biologists have proposed a five-year ban on catching lobsters south of Cape Cod down to Virginia to allow the stock to bounce back.
The proposal is the most drastic of several options that now under consideration by a multi-state commission that regulates fishing of coastal species in the Atlantic. However, it is drawing strong objections from lobster men both here on Long Island and up and down the coast.
Worse, with the oil disaster massive amounts of toxic materials are on the move, and many fear it will only get worse.
Hormones in food, hormone-mimicking pollutants in the waterways are as much a concern in Humans.
Multiple studies have found that chemicals found in such products as food cans, toys, shower curtains, and water bottles may be to blame for causing an early onset of puberty in girls. Furthermore, the studies found that the chemicals also put them at a greater risk of diabetes and cancer. The three chemical classes studied were phthalates, phenols and phytoestrogens. One such hormone-mimicking chemical is Bisphenol A, which was recently found in eighteen out of twenty popular food cans.
The average age that girls begin puberty currently stands at ten years and three months. This average has fallen by more than a year within a single generation. Studies indicated that chemicals like Bisphenol A could be to blame. While Bisphenol A appears to speed up puberty in girls, health experts say other factors must also be considered. Doctors say that obesity could be the largest factor in delaying puberty in girls.
Bisphenol or BPA is an endocrine disrupter that mimics the hormone estrogen. Studies have shown harmful biological effects on animals using low-doses of the chemical and harmful effects on humans have been observed outside of studies. Hormone disrupting effects have been shown to occur at levels of application as low as 2-5 pars per billion and many canned foods are within and over this range. With such a low level of toxicity, it’s easy to see how even a minuscule rate of bisphenol-A (BPA) leakage from plastics disturbs many people. The damaging effects of the chemical include impairment and unnatural changes to sex organs and their functions, increased tumor formation, hyperactivity, neurotoxin effects, and signs of early puberty have been observed. Clearly, BPA’s toxic effects are diverse.
The FDA and the DEP should be investigating and warning on these harmful chemicals in out food but it won’t and conventional media sources, known collectively as “Mainstream Media,” or MSM would rather report about a single spray instead of looking at the much more serious concern in our food and environment.
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