News & Opinion | March 24, 2019 5:00 am

Can We Use Honey To Study Pollution Around The World?

Beehives can be a good detector of lead emissions, a new study shows.

A new study of urban beehives around Vancouver showed that the hives’ honey contained minute levels of lead, especially those hives found downtown and near the city’s ports. The study goes on to say, according to The New York Times, that honey can be a sensitive indicator of air quality. More and more cities are getting urban hives, and tracking their pollutant levels may provide an inexpensive way to monitor what’s in the air around the hives, all around the world.

Dominique Weis, a professor of geochemistry at University of British Columbia and a coauthor of the paper, said that the results showed very small levels of lead and traces of iron, zinc and other substances. It is not enough to be harmful — an adult would have to eat more than a pound of honey a day to reach the FDA’s provisional tolerable lead intake level. But most interesting to Weis is that the chemistry of different samples can show where the honey came from, which means in the future, scientists may be able to track improvements or declines in air quality by simply monitoring beehives and analyzing the honey.

“There are over 17,000 registered hives in the metro Vancouver region,” said Kate Smith, a graduate student who worked with Dr. Weis and led the study, to The Times. “People come out of the woodwork and say, ‘You can come to my backyard and sample my hive.’ Or, ‘Show me how to do it, I want to know what’s in my honey.’”