(Beyond Pesticides, March 30, 2010) Searching for clues to the mysterious disappearance of bees, known as “colony collapse disorder”(CCD), Penn State University researchers have identified widespread pesticide contamination of beehives. The study, “High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health,” was published March 19, 2010 in the scientific journal Public Library of Science (PLOS).
The study finds 121 different types of pesticides within 887 wax, pollen, bee and hive samples from 23 states. The top 10 most frequently detected pesticides are fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorpyrifos, chlorothalonil, amitraz, pendamethalin, endosulfan, fenpropathrin, esfenvalerate and atrazine. Miticides are the most common contaminant in the wax and bees, and fungicides are the most common contaminant of pollen. For the full results of the study, including several tables of wax, pollen and bee sample data, download the study from the PLOS website.
“The pollen is not in good shape,” Chris Mullin, PhD, lead author of the study, told Discovery News. The authors state that the 98 pesticides and metabolites detected in mixtures up to 214 parts per million (ppm) in bee pollen alone represents a remarkably high level for toxicants in the brood and adult food of this primary pollinator. While none of the chemicals themselves were at high enough levels to kill bees, the combination and variety of pesticides is a primary concern to Dr. Mullin. On average, the samples had a combination of eight different pesticides.
First reported in 2006, CCD is unlike other ailments that have affected honeybees in the past because worker bees simply disappear rapidly, never returning to the hive where the queen still lives with a small cluster of bees amidst pollen and honey stores in the presence of immature bees (brood). It has been reported that losses of honeybee colonies across 21 states in the winter of 2007-8 averaged 35%, with a high degree of variability. Large declines of honeybee colonies were also experienced in select European countries, where average losses were 26%.
Many indications point to CCD potentially being induced by pesticides in the neonicotinoid family, including imidacloprid and clothianidin, in combination with other pesticides, pathogens, nutritional deficits and environmental stresses. Continued debate about the cause of CCD threatens to induce “paralysis by analysis” in a situation that necessitates action.
Beyond Pesticides believes that pesticides are likely to be a part of the CCD equation and a precautionary approach must be taken. Solutions to the loss of bees and human productivity are clearly within our reach if we engage our communities and governmental bodies. We know how to live in harmony with the ecosystem through the adoption of sustainable practices that simply do not allow toxic pesticide use. Because our survival depends on healthy pollinators, we must do everything in our power to solve this problem.
David Hackenberg, the beekeeper who first discovered a mysterious disappearance of honeybees now known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), is scheduled to speak at Beyond Pesticides’ 28th National Pesticide Forum, Greening the Community, April 9-10 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. Mr. Hackenberg believes that pesticides contribute to CCD and that honeybees are a barometer of the environment. Featured in several films and news investigations, he has been front and center in this important fight to protect our pollinators. Register online.
For more information on pollinators and CCD, read our factsheet: Pollinators and Pesticides: Escalating crisis demands action.