Research links beehives, pesticides

LIHUE — Another study looking at pesticides in beehives is underway in Hawaii.

And results are showing a connection between agriculture-dense areas and an increase in the chemical glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — in honey.

It began two years ago, with 38 samples taken from all over the island by Kauai ecologist Carl Berg; James Trujillo, chairman of the Kauai Beekeper’s Association; and Kapaa High School senior Ratikaa Kumar.

“We gathered samples and worked on it right here in the (Kauai Community College) bee lab,” Trujillo said.

Kumar took on the study as a way to enter her high school science fair, and her project was to test the amount of glyphosate in honey.

She, Berg and Trujillo gathered samples for seven months and sent them to labs in Honolulu and Germany to validate sample methods.

“After that got done, and we got positive results, Ratikaa went to college and I went out and got another 21 samples and replicated the experiment,” Berg said.

He went to some of the same hives, found a few more, and increased his sample size to 59. After going through those samples, data showed 40.7 percent of the samples collected contained glyphosate.

Concentration within the samples that tested positive was an average of 80 parts per billion — ranging from zero to 330 parts per billion.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t set a tolerance limit for glyphosate. In the European Union, the tolerance level is 50 parts per billion.

More bees on the Westside had glyphosate in their honey, and many of the samples from hives near large agriculture operations proved to contain the chemical.

The purpose of the study is to monitor the migration of pesticides from their point of introduction, and relationships between urban development, golf courses and industrial areas were also analyzed.

“I let the data speak for itself, and the only strong correlation that came out was a correlation with agriculture,” Berg said.

If a hive is in an area where 60 percent or more of the land is dedicated to agriculture, there’s a high chance of seeing glyphosate in the honey, the study shows.

Berg, Trujillo and Kumar’s studies aren’t focused on the effects of glyphosate on bees or on humans, they’re just tracking the movement of the pesticide.

Research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals looking into its role in chronic diseases and pregnancy complications. In 2015, the World Health Organization declared the chemical as a possible carcinogen.

And the FDA announced in June it had resumed a mission to evaluate how much glyphosate is landing in the U.S. food supply.

In 2016, a state-commissioned study of pesticides in bee pollen on Kauai looked at 200 samples from 23 sites, said Scott Enright, director of the state Department of Agriculture.

Among the dozens of chemicals listed in testing, glyphosate wasn’t among them, but the study’s initial findings revealed pest-control products in every sample.

Glyphosate was left out from the study because it was targeted at chemicals that potentially kill or harm bees, and it doesn’t, Enright said.

“Bees don’t have any reaction to it. It doesn’t affect them,” he said.

Concentrations of the pest-control products that were found weren’t very high, Enright told the Kauai County Council, which funded the $12,000 study.

“The pesticide branch, the state Department of Health toxicologist, all took a look at this. They’re not concerned about the levels, but understanding the pathways would be interesting,” he told the council in March.

Berg is looking at those pathways through his research.

“What I’ve shown in my study is that the pesticide glyphosate left the site of application and showed up in bee hives — what we call migration,” Berg said. “(HDOA) looked at bee pollen. I’d already done the same thing with honey.”

Enright said working with local beekeepers on a second study during the new fiscal year is an option.

“We very might well do that. I was just waiting for the new fiscal-year money,” he said. “We can go ahead and do that if beekeepers are on board.”

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