New Study Shows Honey Can Be Used To Reveal Lead And Other Pollutants

This could change how scientists study pollution.

Honey from beehives can be used to measure air pollution, according to a new study from researchers at The University of British Columbia's Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research (PCIGR).

The research, which was recently published in Nature Sustainability, drew on a survey of urban beehives around Vancouver that contained small levels of lead, according to The New York Times. Using beehives to measure pollutants could be a cost-effective way to monitor what is in the air wherever beehives reside.

"The good news is that the chemical composition of honey in Vancouver reflects its environment and is extremely clean," the study's lead author Kate E. Smith, who is a Ph.D. candidate at PCIGR, told the school's website. "We also found that the concentration of elements increased the closer you got to downtown Vancouver, and by fingerprinting the lead we can tell it largely comes from manmade sources."

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Shutterstock / wisawa222

The Vancouver area honey showed levels that were below the global average for things like lead, and the UBC website said someone would "have to consume more than 600 grams, or two cups, of honey every day to exceed tolerable levels."

Hives for Humanity, a nonprofit in Vancouver, set the study in motion when it asked a professor at UBC to look at the honey for pollutants. Through the honey samples alone, Smith said the researchers could locate higher concentrations fo lead in areas with heavy traffic or industrial activity. Researchers also noted that the lead wasn't "traceable" to any local sources, which led them to the hypothesis that large cargo ships entering Vancouver from Asia could be the source of the contaminants.

"One of the exciting parts of this study is that it bridges science with community interests," Smith told the school's website. "Honey sampling can easily be performed by citizen scientists in other urban centers, even if they lack other environmental monitoring capabilities."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Sushaaa

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