State House OKs restrictions on insecticide use near coast

Hartford - A bill that would restrict the use of insecticides to control mosquitoes that might carry the West Nile virus passed in the House by a vote of 140-1 last week.

Methoprene and resmethrin would be prohibited for use in storm drains and "conveyance for water" such as pipelines, near the coast.

The bill comes in response to concern over a possible link between the insecticides and the decreasing lobster population in Long Island Sound.

After a massive insecticide application in 1998, a lobster die-off began the next year, proponents of the bill said. However, Ted Andreadis, the entomologist in charge of the mosquito-testing program at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, said that virtually no methoprene or resmethrin are used in Connecticut.

Steve Mansfield, deputy director of health at the Ledge Light Health District, also said the agency doesn't use the insecticides in the area. The studies available about whether the insecticides are the main culprits of the die-off are also not convincing, according to Andreadis.

But state Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton said, "there is more than enough evidence."

She said there have been numerous studies on laboratory lobster that show exposure to these insecticides can harm lobster. For example, a laboratory study published in Integrative and Comparative Biology in 2005 found that methoprene damaged the lobsters' ability to molt, which left them vulnerable to predators, she said.

The legislation now moves to the Senate, even though the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has not yet completed a study that aims to understand the reasons for the lobster population decline. Besides insecticides, rising water temperatures have been suggested as a possible culprit.

"This is one agent that we can control. We can't control directly the rate of water temperature increases," Wright said.

DEEP has already reported that the lobster catch from Long Island Sound declined to 142,000 pounds in 2011 from 3.7 million pounds in 1998. The central and western portion of Long Island Sound has had the largest decrease, 99 percent since 1998, according to DEEP's website.

In response to fishermen's concerns about weak and dead lobsters, DEEP and the University of Connecticut's Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory conducted lobster tests from the middle of Long Island Sound, south of Norwalk, in September 2011. Nine weak lobsters and one healthy one were studied.

DEEP wanted to examine whether the deaths were from water temperature or bacterial or parasitic infection.

The results of the study provided "no evidence of a consistent pattern of tissue injury that would explain the mortalities."

The UConn laboratory also tested lobster tissues for the pesticides and found evidence of exposure of livers and reproductive organs to resmethrin. At least one was exposed to methoprene.

Because the sample size was so small it is not clear how the presence of pesticides in lobster tissue affects the health of the lobster population, according to DEEP's website.

DEEP has been given the task of conducting another study with a larger sample size to determine the reasons for the lobster population decline. It is planning to finish its laboratory study this summer and then analyze the results, said Dennis Schain, spokesman for DEEP.

A co-chairwoman of the legislature's Environment Committee, Rep. Linda Gentile, D-Ansonia, said, "This bill is a step in the right direction to rebuild this industry and once again create a thriving, booming enterprise."

Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, a co-sponsor, said, "The goal of these insecticides is to poison and kill biological organisms. They should not be allowed to go into Long Island Sound."

Wright said, "To the extent that we can help improve the health of the lobster and reverse the decline in population numbers, (that) will be a benefit to the commercial lobsterman, the tourist industry, not to mention the benefits of being able to eat locally grown shellfish and lobster."

The bill requires the DEEP commissioner with the state's Department of Public Health and Department of Agriculture commissioners and the state Agricultural Experiment Station director to establish a plan for the use of mosquito insecticides. By Sept. 1 the agencies must come up with a plan to prohibit the use of methoprene or resmethrin in any storm drain or conveyance for water within the coastal boundary. Connecticut's coastal boundary is defined by the National Flood Insurance Act as 1,000 feet from the mean high water mark in coastal waters or 1,000 feet from the inland boundary of tidal wetlands, whichever is farthest inland, according to state law.

The prohibition will not apply to a municipality of more than 100,000 people in which there was a documented death of a human from the West Nile virus.

The agencies must also recommend a pilot program to study products labeled to be used for mosquito control in streams, storm drains, storm gutters and bird baths in order to make sure products with methoprene and resmethrin are appropriately labeled.

The bill also provides some leeway.

If DEEP and public health department commissioners, in consultation with the mosquito management coordinator at DEEP, recommend the use of methoprene or resmethrin, it may be used in a body of water where mosquito larvae are found or suspected.

Mansfield of the Ledge Light Health District said the bill would have no impact on the agency's mosquito control activities. The public health agency, which serves East Lyme, Ledyard, Groton, New London and Waterford, provides larvicide briquettes to residents.

"We don't use either of those chemicals," Mansfield said.

Andreadis agreed, explaining the briquettes contain bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, a biological control that "is highly toxic to mosquito larvae, but has no environmental impact."

Andreadis said he has also researched the supposed link between the insecticides and the lobster die-off.

"I've looked at the data, and from my perspective there doesn't seem to be anything to substantiate this," he said.

No fiscal impact is associated with the amendment.

j.somers@theday.com

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