Researchers have used bees to monitor pollution for the first time in Australia and have found significant lead levels in the insects, depending on location.
The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reports the levels of metal varied depending on the history of the land.
Scientists say Sydney dwelling bees are affected by former leaded gasoline emissions from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, with highest lead levels reaching 230-440 micrograms a kilogram.
But 715 miles to the west in Broken Hill, where lead mining is carried out, bees possessed much higher levels of lead, with about 2,570ug/kg detected.
Project leader Mark Taylor of Macquarie University says the findings provide a stark warning against the unsafe use of chemicals in the environment.
“They don’t degrade that quickly, they get into the ecological systems and they don’t break down in many cases and they are persistent and typically harmful,”” he tells the newspaper.
“This shows us that the contaminants are being mobilized and are getting into our ecological and food systems.”
Taylor says the bees were protecting the quality of their honey by absorbing and filtering the lead into their systems and not excreting it all when in the hive.
“The honey is actually OK to eat — the bees are taking the hit,” he says.
The research showed worker bees are more contaminated than drones.
“Worker bees spend a lot more time out of the hive than drone bees,”” Taylor says.
“Emissions are ongoing and being distributed through cities and its getting to the bees, the birds and humans. We know lead is harmful, end of story.”