A honey bee in a flower is shown in a handout photo. A new study from the University of British Columbia says honey from urban honey bees can show how clean a city is and help pinpoint the sources of environmental pollutants such as lead. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of British Columbia)

UBC study shows honey bees can help monitor pollution in cities

Scientists analyzed beehives in high density urban areas to those off on Galiano Island

Honey from urban honey bees can help pinpoint the sources of environmental pollutants such as lead, a new study from the University of British Columbia suggests.

Scientists from the university’s Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research analyzed honey from urban beehives in six Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods where they tested for lead, zinc, copper and other elements.

“They fly through the air and drink water and land on surfaces in addition to foraging the way we think they forge for pollen and nectar,” said Kate E. Smith, lead author of the study and a PhD student at the university. ”So while they are interacting with all parts of the environment they are also passively collecting dust and particulates.”

The researchers found the concentration of elements increased closer to areas with heavy traffic, higher urban density and industrial activity such as shipping ports.

READ MORE: Honeybee farmers hope science can allow hives to thrive

Scientists analyzed beehives from rooftops in high density urban areas to those off on Galiano Island, she said.

“So we have hives surrounded by all different types of land use,” Smith said.

They found that honey from areas downtown, higher urban density or heavier concentration of industrial activity had elevated concentrations of certain trace elements that are indicative of human activity such as zinc, titanium, copper or lead.

The good news is that the chemical composition of honey in Vancouver reflects its environment and is extremely clean, Smith said.

“Vancouver is still quite a clean city. It’s not bad. Just typical of a city.”

Metro Vancouver honey is well below the worldwide average for heavy metals such as lead, and an adult would have to consume more than 600 grams — two cups — of honey every day to exceed tolerable levels, Smith said.

Exposure to lead remains a key human health concern especially for children, she said.

Researchers used a technique called isotopic fingerprinting, she said, noting that lead has four isotopes, which are variants of a particular chemical element.

Analyzing these isotopes is similar to determining a fingerprint because it gives scientists information about the source of the lead, she said.

Lead that comes from rocks, the Garibaldi volcanic belt or sediment from the Fraser River is different from that which comes from downtown because of human activity, Smith said.

“The unique aspect of this study is the use of lead isotopes to help fingerprint the potential sources of lead in environments with different types of land use,” Smith said. “This is the first study to do this with honey in North America.”

The concentration of elements increased closer to downtown Vancouver, and is largely from manmade sources, she said.

The four years worth of data researchers have can serve as a baseline for future studies, she noted.

“Cities are a very dynamic environment. We have issues and challenges like climate change and all of these factors will contribute to how the landscape of the city changes,” she said. “And we can continue to monitor this by monitoring honey from honeybees.”

Honey bees are biomonitors of the environment because the honey gives quantitative information about the environment as opposed to just qualitative information, Smith said.

“An example of qualitative information would be the canary in the coal mine but here we are getting quantitative data that tells us about the environment immediately surrounding the hive,” she said.

“I think it’s mostly useful in that it would supplement those more traditional methods of environmental sampling like air and top soil.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Rapping mom busts rhymes for Castlegar rec centre kid’s drop-in

Funny video with important message about importance of service

Kootenay Lake ferry labour dispute ends with ratified agreement

The deal was approved by 83 per cent of members

Selkirk music students turn up the semester-end volume

Five different ensemble student bands will take the stage on Dec. 12

CP Holiday Train returning to Nelson next week

Train will stop at Lakeside Park railway crossing on Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Fashion Fridays: Ethical and sustainable gifts for the season

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

B.C. Transit scores 28 used fareboxes on eBay, saves $300,000

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Economy lost 71,200 jobs in November, unemployment rate climbs to 5.9%

Jobless rate is at its highest since August 2018, when it hit 6%

VIDEO: John Lennon’s iconic Rolls Royce rolls into Vancouver Island college for checkup

Royal BC Museum, Camosun College and Coachwerks Restorations come together to care for car

VIDEO: Rockslide closes part of Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Petition calls for appeal of ex-Burns Lake mayor’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says Luke Strimbold’s case is under review

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

BC firefighters to help battle Australian bushfires

Canada sent 22 people, including 7 from B.C.

Most Read