A new study on air pollution shows that the pudding is not proof – it's in the honey. Research conducted in partnership between the nonprofit Hives for Humanity and the University of British Columbia has shown that honey collected from urban hives can accurately measure how polluted a city is. This means that honey is not just a by-product of bee-repel, but also a way to closely monitor changes in the environment.
Writing in Nature Sustainability the authors of the study declare that this study is the first of their kind in North America. Specifically, they analyzed the honey collected from beehives in six-quarters of Metro Vancouver and tested the levels of lead, zinc, copper, and other elements. The good news for Vancouver was that the chemical composition of this Canadian honey has proven that the city is "extremely clean". This does not mean, however, that human influence did not affect honey at all ̵
In this new study, honey samples showed that the concentration of elements associated with environmental pollution increased as beehives were closer to areas of heavy traffic, higher urban density and seaports. The hives on the edge of Vancouver – such as the agricultural town of Delta, a thirty-minute drive from Vancouver – had honey with a higher manganese content, which scientists claim to be largely indicative of pesticide use in the region.
They also found that the fingerprints in honey did not match those of other local environmental samples – except for traces of lead in the trees of Stanley Park, a public park adjacent to downtown Vancouver. Subsequent isotopic analysis revealed that the lead in honey and the lead in the trees could have originated from the same anthropogenic origin: from harbors.
"We found that both had fingerprints resembling aerosols, ores and coals from major Asian cities," said lead author Dominique Weis on Monday. "With more than 70 percent of cargo ships entering the port of Vancouver coming from Asian ports, it is possible that they are a source contributing to increased lead levels in downtown Vancouver. "
However, Vancouver residents should not worry about getting started. Honey – Weis and her colleagues find that an adult needs to eat more than two cups of honey a day to beat the bearable lead levels. This does not mean that honey should stop being monitored: The team hopes that citizens and scientists in other cities will work together to analyze the local honey, which in turn monitors the environmental health of their homes.
Urban geochemistry is an emerging field in which the key scientific and societal challenges, including rapid urbanization and population growth, force the study of readily available biomonitors, the source, transport and fate of heavy metal contaminants to be determined in cities. Lead isotope analysis of honey has recently demonstrated its efficacy as a biomonitor for Pb source assignment. We collected honey directly in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in six geographic sectors to investigate the presence of potential contaminants from different zoning areas: in cities, in industry, in homes, and in agriculture. Systematic variations in trace element concentration and honey Pb isotopic compositions reflect proximity to man-made land use activities such as seaports and heavy traffic. Honey sampled in the downtown area near the Vancouver harbor has increased trace element concentrations and significantly higher 208Pb / 206Pb (ie, less radiogenic) compared to suburban and rural honey compared to local environmental proxies (eg, oysters, Fraser River) on sediment and volcanic rock), which suggests possible influences of Asian anthropogenic sources. This study presents the first Pb isotope data for North American honey and supports the combined use of trace elements and Pb isotopic compositions in honey as a geochemical biomonitor.