Honey Bees Help Scientists Measure Air Pollution In Cities

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Whether a city is affected by air pollution or not, the honey of urban bees will show that to the scientists. In addition to that, what these honey bees produce can also help pinpoint where the environmental pollutants come from, according to the new research from the University of British Columbia.

Scientists from UBC’s Pacific Center for Isotopic and Geochemical Research (PCIGR) analyzed the honey from urban beehives in six Metro Vancouver neighborhoods in their study published recently in Nature Sustainability. The minuscule levels of zinc, lead, copper and such other elements were tested in the honey that comes from those urban bees.

According to the lead author of the study, a Ph.D. candidate at PCIGR, Kate E. Smith, it is good to hear that honey’s chemical composition in Vancouver reflects how extremely clean its environment is. But, on the other hand, the concentration of elements is increased when it comes to the downtown parts of Vancouver.

Honey Bees Help Scientists Measure Air Pollution In Cities

In order to exceed the tolerable levels of heavy metals like lead, an adult would have to consume two cups or more than 600 grams of the Vancouver honey. And that is well below the worldwide average when it comes to its purity. “The instruments at PCIGR are susceptible and measure these elements in parts per billion or the equivalent of one drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool,” said Dominique Weis, senior author, and director of the institute.

The concentration of toxic elements that cause air pollution has also been found by researchers to be increasing in places close to areas with heavy traffic, industrial activity, and higher urban density such as shipping ports. For example, the city of Delta is such a place, and it showed elevated levels of manganese. Manganese is usually a result of the pesticide use and agricultural activities that take place in the area.

“One of the exciting parts of this study is that it bridges science with community interests. Honey sampling can easily be performed by citizen scientists in other urban centers, even if they lack other environmental monitoring capabilities,” Kate E. Smith said.