Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Plastics and Lobsters

One quarter or more of all the lobsters caught in southern New England, including eastern Long Island Sound, suffer from lobster shell disease, or shell rot, according to this Sea Grant article by Peg Van Patten. As far as I can tell, the article is the first place that discusses the finding by Hans Laufer, the UConn professor emeritus, that plastic bottles might be implicated in lobster shell disease. Here's an excerpt:

Looking at lobster tissues in the laboratory, Laufer was surprised to find very high levels of alkylphenols, estrogenic chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics and rubber, in lobster tissues. They are antioxidants with phenolic resins, and also result from the breakdown of many manufactured products. Intrigued by this finding, Laufer also examined sediment samples from Martha's Vineyard and Great Bay, New Jersey. The sediments had high levels of these same endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Laufer believes that the alkylphenols were not present because of some greedy, midnight illegal dumper, but that they simply came through water treatment plants unscathed. So, "we," the producers, users, and discarders of plastic and rubber products, and the wastewater treatment methods we use, may be part of the shell disease problem. While Laufer stresses that the work is very preliminary, he believes that there may be a tie between these chemicals and susceptibility to shell disease. ...

I poked around on Sea Grant's website yesterday and this morning and was unable to find a date for the story, although it refers to something that happened in 2006, so it's not that old.

I also don't know (not that I checked too hard) if Laufer's work has been peer-reviewed yet. Nevertheless it seems like a pretty significant finding and I'm surprised the Hartford Courtant, New London Day and Providence Journal haven't picked it up yet.

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Blogger John said...

If that's accurate, it's another good reason to reduce the use of plastics.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

You'd be surprised what they find in water these days. One is pharmaceuticals. It is rather mystifying but most all reservoirs and inshore bay waters has hormones and all kinds of things meant for people to take a medicine. True, it is in parts per trillion, and we don't know how all that stuff got there, but they're not natural.

Biologists began finding fish that changed sex and was messing up their population reproduction rates. As background, many fish start out as males and mature to females, or visa versa. The synthetic compounds caused the fish to mostly be of the same sex, unable to reproduce.

I am unclear as to the science as you can tell. But the two culprits seem to be wastewater and the runoff from the pharmaceutical plants themselves, since they end up with large quantities of non-specification drugs. Watch for more stories on this in the future, maybe.

8:15 PM  

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