Kid, I blew up the honey: fallout from nuclear bomb tests detected in US pots
Honey from several regions of the US shows traces of a radioactive element from nuclear testing that took place in the 1950s and 60s, according to a new study.
The study, published in Nature Communications, reported that 68 of 122 honey samples from Maine to Florida show varying amounts of cesium-137, a relic of bomb tests conducted during the cold war. The bombs were detonated by the US and the Soviet Union on American soil from Nevada and New Mexico, the Marshall Islands and the Russian Arctic archipelago Novaya Zemlya.
The prevailing winds brought the cesium eastwards, and the relics are still circulating in plants and animals 50 years later.
Jim Kaste, the lead author of the study, said that the levels of cesium-137 are not high enough to pose a threat to human health, meaning the honey remains “safe for consumption”.
“I’m not trying to tell people they shouldn’t eat honey. I feed my kids honey,” Kaste said. “I eat more honey now than I did when I started this project, ” Kaste said in a blogpost.
The study originally began in 2017 as a spring break assignment for members of a William & Mary freshman seminar. It aims to use the radiocesium found in honey as an indicator of atmospherically deposited contaminants and identifying modern pollution “hotspots”.
The cesium element is similar to potassium, which is heavily absorbed by plants. When soils lack potassium, the plants absorb what appears to be most similar, in this case cesium, passing it along through nectar to the bees.
Meanwhile, the study also notes that some regions in the US contain more cesium than others.
“While soils of the eastern US have a relatively narrow range of radiocesium today, concentrations in honey sourced from this region spanned nearly three orders of magnitude with far higher levels in the south-east,” reads the study published on 29 March.
The researchers also found that radiocesium levels had declined since the 1960s, but the reasons for it remain unclear. After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, several researchers documented the presence of radiocesium in honey and pollen in European nations affected by fallout from the event.
“What we see today is a small fraction of the radiation that was present during the 1960s and 1970s,” said Kaste in the blogpost. “And we can’t say for sure if cesium-137 has anything to do with bee colony collapse or the decline of population.”