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    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Lobsters and us

    Coal miners once carried canaries into the mines knowing any toxic gas leaking into the shafts would first overcome the small birds, providing a warning. Could lobsters in Long Island Sound and elsewhere along the southern New England coastline be providing our warning?

    Researcher Hans Laufer fears that is the case.

    Mr. Laufer's research suggests a connection between collapsing lobster populations and increasing amounts of alkylphenols in the environment, including bisphenol A, also called BPA. For 40 years industries have used alkylphenols in detergents, plastics, lubricants and as fuel additives. These chemicals have made life easier, but growing evidence suggests that they are not harmless.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that BPAs could adversely affect fetuses and infants. A ban on BPA in children's products, including baby bottles, takes effect in Connecticut this fall. The European Union has applied restrictions on certain uses of alkylphenols because of concerns about "toxicity, persistence and the liability to bioaccumulate."

    Mr. Laufer, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Connecticut, said high concentrations of these chemicals found in lobsters likely play a role in the die-off. He theorizes that the chemicals weaken lobster shells and make the bottom-dwelling animals susceptible to bacterial infection.

    The Sound is an accumulating point for the chemicals that runoff with rain from the shore or pass through sewage treatment plants. There the lobsters ingest them as they feed on clams, mussels and other creatures living in the sediment.

    The implications for the local lobster industry is troubling, and for humans it's frightening. Mr. Laufer is convinced these chemicals pose a threat to human health.

    This should provide another incentive to pursue a more environment-friendly lifestyle. Use cloth grocery satchels rather than plastic bags. Refill water containers. Never toss recyclable plastics into the garbage. Opt for glass or cardboard containers when possible.

    There is more at stake here than lobsters.

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