Planet Earth

German Bees Report for Duty as Pollution Inspectors

DiscoblogBy Joseph CalamiaJun 29, 2010 8:40 PM

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Would you eat honey called Dulles Delight? LAX Natural? LaGuardia Lip-Smackers? Some Germans are enjoying Düsseldorf Natural, honey made from airport-dwelling bees. The Düsseldorf International Airport and 7 other airports have employed bees as “biodetectives": inspectors test the bees' honey for pollutants as an indirect way to monitor airport air quality. As The New York Timesreports, these bees come from a long line of other insect inspectors--including aquatic bugs for testing water quality. Though the airports still use more-traditional sensors to test for air pollutants, in 2006 they added these buzzing mini-inspectors to their testing fleet. The German Orga Lab tests the honey, made from around 200,000 bees, twice a year for contaminants such as hydrocarbons and heavy metals. They hope to monitor changes over long stretches of time to see if the bees can pick up air quality differences. Martin Bunkowski, an environmental engineer for the Association of German Airports, told The New York Times that the project is appealing because the insects' job seems clear.

"It’s a very clear message for the public because it is easy to understand,” Bunkowski said.

Currently, the Düsseldorf honey is looking good--contaminants were far below official limits, and the honey was comparable in quality to that harvested in more scenic locales. Most importantly, since the local bee club gives the honey out for no charge, the sweet stuff is effectively duty free. Related content: 80beats: How Ancient Beekeepers Made Israel the Land of (Milk and) Honey: Imported Bees 80beats: Honeybees Get High on Cocaine And Dance, Dance, Dance DISCOVER: The Baffling Bee Die-Off Continues DISCOVER: Who Killed All Those Honeybees? We Did DISCOVER: The Alluring and Alien Sights of a Bee in Ultra Close-up (photo gallery)

Image: flickr /cygnus921

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