Bees are detecting air pollution in Brussels
It started with a research project in Vancouver, Canada, but now cities like Paris, Brussels, Grenoble,… are following suit. A chemical and isotopic analysis of bee honey indicates all sources of pollution in the neighbourhood of a bee-hive.
It’s a Belgian, Dominique Weis, former researcher at the ULB university of Brussels and now leading the Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research in Vancouver, who discovered that honey contains the fingerprints (in very small and unharmful quantities) of all sources of pollution around a bee-hive.
Bees produce honey and in order to achieve this they search in a range of 3 kilometres around the bee-hive. The flowers they visit are covered with the dust of the city, produced by traffic, heating, industry and other human or natural activities. “This dust also contains all markers from the pollution source,” says Weis.
“According to the sort of pollution, we find specific isotopes (in very small quantities of course) of heavy metals like lead, zinc, copper, cadmium, but also arsenic. Those are so unique they can point out which sources of pollution created them and where they are. Furthermore they tell us a lot about the health of the plants where they have been collected.”
The project started with the checking of all possible pollution sources in the indicated areas of Vancouver, in the aftermath bee-keepers were asked to collaborate and indicate where their bee-hives were located. In and around Vancouver you can find 18.000 bee-hives, so practically the whole urban and suburban area was covered.
At first the project wanted to control the quality of the honey (it proved quite good), but the analysing method showed to be very efficient too in detecting polluting sources as traffic, mining, volcanic eruptions, etc.
The bees of Brussels and Paris
The results were so promising that the same kind of projects have now been started in European cities like Paris, Brussels or Grenoble, amongst others. In Brussels the first samples of honey have already been taken and the research is being conducted by professor Philippe Claeys (VUB university Brussels).
Dominique Weis, who sporadically returns to his home town to follow things, claims there are a lot of bee-hives in Brussels. “Mostly you will find them in new urban-agricultural projects or in the small city gardens you can find everywhere,” adds Weis, “and the first results are surprising. But we will have to collect far more data before we draw conclusions of course. We expect publication of the results in a year from now.”