US Honey Has Radioactive Fallout from 1950s Nuclear Tests
Pesticides kill bees… we blog about and hear so much about the damage done to bees like honeybees due to pesticides.
Have you ever wondered how radioactive fallout might affect bees? Probably not. It’s not something any of us thinks about under normal circumstances. Is there enough of it in honey to affect us?
According to Sputnik News, this is a less understood topic. They report that bumblebees near the Ukraine’s Chernobyl exclusion zone had lower reproductive levels after the 1986 reactor disaster that spread fallout across the area.
The USA performed around 100 above-ground nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada Test Site between the years 1951 and 1963. An additional 928 underground tests were carried out prior to 1973. Then the USA signed the Threshold Test Ban Treaty which seriously limited the size of underground nuclear tests.
This 1:37-minute video by TRT World discusses US honey contaminated with radioactive contamination:
These nuclear weapons atmospheric tests produced radioactive dust which spread far and wide across the USA unchecked, and these made their way into the ecosystem, waterways and even into agricultural crops and food.
Most radiation from nuclear weapon detonation decays within days, but one of the longest-living and abundant fission products is [cesium-137] with a radioactive half-life of 30.2 years, according to a report in Nature Communications.
Three-quarters of a century later, scientists still find existing evidence of those explosions in new places.
The latest is honey.
According to Science Magazine, a recent project sheds new light on the matter. James Kaste, a geologist at Virginia’s College of William & Mary, tasked his undergraduate students with the assignment of bringing local produce back to the lab from wherever they went for spring break so it could be tested for cesium. Most results were very low, as expected, but one sample from Raleigh, North Carolina had cesium levels 100 times higher than the other samples.
Then Kaste and two others collected 122 honey samples from all along the US East Coast to test for radioactive cesium isotope. Only 68 samples were above 0.03 becquerels per kilogram, with the highest at 19.1 from a Florida sample. The US FDA safety cut off is 1,200 becquerels per kilogram.
Kaste says he is not at all worried, he eats honey and so do his kids. The study reveals the amount of cesium in the honey was probably much higher decades ago, but its radioactive instability has caused much of it to decay and turn into other elements. Cesium-137 is one of several radioactive isotopes uniquely created by nuclear bombs. It mimics potassium, which is an element used in biological processes, and that is how it becomes part of the plants from which bees collect nectar and pollen. Two other radioactive isotopes are strontium-90, which mimics calcium and makes dairy milk products an easy pathway for human consumption according to the US EPA, as well as iodine-131 which passes through milk and can cause thyroid cancer.
A University of Arizona 2017 study revealed that radioactive fallout from those tests caused an extra 340,000 to 690,000 US deaths. A 1986 New York Times article recalled that even though the US Atomic Energy Commission tracked radiation fallout in food for decades, claiming the exposure was like standing in the sunshine, this was not supported by evidence showing farm animals died from radiation exposure and human cancer rates in Utah increased tenfold near the test site. In the years following the intense testing—1954, 1956 and 1959—stillbirth rated rose in New York. Plutonium was found in the soil in Salt Lak City, Houston, and Denver. Yet federal officials stated that no increased cancer rates, or medical damage of any kind, was a result of nuclear testing.
Native American communities downwind of the nuclear explosions have had the worst fallout. The first, and worst, “Trinity” nuclear test explosion in July 1945 poured a vast amount of radioactive dust onto the “Tularosa downwinders” in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto. Some of these people have received financial compensation from the US government but they have not been included in such legislation yet.
While it appears we need have no worries about the level of radioactive contamination showing up in today’s honey, one must wonder if it has an effect on the little bees? it is important that we, as a species, understand how long-term nuclear contaminants move around and how they can affect the health of our pollinators, agriculture and ecosystems.
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