John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Their pollen and honey contain substances linked to Colony Collapse Disorder.
Yet in parts of New England, the toxic substances still appear all over the land. Researchers testing honey and pollen samples in Massachusetts found neonicotinoids every month at every site they checked—“suggesting that bees are at risk of neonicotinoid exposure any time they are foraging anywhere in Massachusetts,” according to a Harvard press release.
The scientists worked with beekeepers to monitor 62 hives across the state during the spring and summer of 2013. Nearly three-quarters of the pollen and honey samples they analyzed contained at least one kind of neonicotinoid. “Levels of neonicotinoids that we found in this study fall into ranges that could lead to detrimental health effects in bees, including [Colony Collapse Disorder],” says Chensheng “Alex” Lu, one of the authors of their study in Environmental Chemistry.
Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of pesticide that can be applied in the soil. They are absorbed into plant parts—including nectar and pollen—to provide a ubiquitous, long-lasting armor that destroys the nervous systems of insects. The E.U. has banned them until December (with the occasional break) to allow scientists to study their effects on bees. This spring, the EPA put a moratorium on issuing new neonicotinoid permits for similar reasons (though people who already have permits are free to use them).
The Harvard researchers hope their findings will prod governments into curtailing neonicotinoids to protect bees… and maybe humans, too, they say:
The most commonly detected neonicotinoid was imidacloprid, followed by dinotefuran. Particularly high concentrations of neonicotinoids were found in Worcester County in April, in Hampshire County in May, in Suffolk County in July, and in Essex County in June, suggesting that, in these counties, certain months pose significant risks to bees.
The new findings suggest that neonicotinoids are being used throughout Massachusetts. Not only do these pesticides pose a significant risk for the survival of honey bees, but they also may pose health risks for people inhaling neonicotinoid-contaminated pollen, Lu said. “The data presented in this study should serve as a basis for public policy that aims to reduce neonicotinoid exposure,” he said.