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Following the Beeline to Children's Health

honey_bees_shutterstock_113350948With honeybees responsible for flying from plant to plant, depositing pollen, they are essential to pollinating one-third of fruit trees (which put fruit, nuts and vegetables on our tables).(1) The implications are far-reaching for beekeepers, farmers, and the food industry, but also reflect the larger picture: the state of our environment and human health.

Theories abound as to what has caused the collapse, including low-level pesticide spraying, Bt (genetically modified) crops, global climate change, competition for food, and even a rare spore called Nosema ceranae.(1) Others believe the culprit lies in a combination of a few of these factors. The losses have reduced crop yields ranging from kiwis to avocados.(2) Like frog populations that began showing signs of environmental distress (via physical deformities) decades ago, America’s honeybee population may be the next canary in the coal mine.

If just one theory – low-level pesticides -- is to blame for killing honeybees, what are these toxic poisons doing to our children? Pesticides are used everywhere from schools to homes, restaurants, playing fields, parks and lawns. It has been said, “it’s the dose that makes the poison,” but what researchers are discovering is that the timing of exposure, especially during important developmental periods, may be just as important as the amount. Pesticides and children make a dangerous combination because kids so readily absorb everything around them. Pound for pound of body weight, they take in more air, water and food than adults. They also play closer to the ground, where contaminants such as pesticides often settle.

Some beekeepers are moving their colonies away from pesticide-sprayed areas in an effort to conserve them, and finding success. NRDC’s On Earth magazine chronicles one beekeeper, Jeff Anderson, who has done just this in order to keep his livelihood intact. With honeybees responsible for pollinating up to $14 billion worth of crops annually in the U.S., the economics of beekeeping have a profound effect on farmers as well, who are now paying more to traveling beekeepers who move from farm to farm with their colonies, pollinating crops.(3) If moving colonies away from pesticide spraying can save Anderson’s colonies, what are the implications for protecting humans and children in particular?

Parents and children can begin by avoiding spraying pesticides inside the home and on the lawn. Resources such as www.beyondpesticies.org provide answers to most pest and lawn issues, and are available by phone as well. Pets and kids themselves shouldn’t be directly exposed either: avoid toxic flee collars for pets and traditional lice treatments for children. Though alternatives may be harder to find, health food stores and larger outlets such as Whole Foods offer solutions. Reading labels and knowing what ingredients are in products is essential. More information is available under the Helpful Resources and Greening Your Life icons at www.imusenvironmentalhealth.org . The collapse of the honeybee population testifies to ambiguous environmental causes that may have far-reaching affects not only for the insect world, but for human health. Protecting our children from what we know can harm them is just one way to heed the lessons of nature.

Article by Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP:

Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP is Research/Project Manager at The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at Hackensack University Medical Center.  She specializes in children's environmental health research and education, particularly on eliminating exposures to everyday toxins.  Research concentrations include environmental factors associated with autism spectrum disorders, a pediatric school-based clinical trial, and a study measuring children's exposures to environmental toxins linked to cancer and endocrine disruption.  She serves on the hospital's Wellness Advisory Committee, and enjoys presenting on healthy, sustainable living.  Erin Ihde has an MA in Environmental Education from New York University, where she received a fellowship from the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, and a BA in English from the Honors Program at The College of New Jersey. She is a Certified Clinical Research Professional through SoCRA.
 

Publications from The New Yorker to NRDC’s On Earth magazine have covered the alarming collapse of U.S. honeybee populations. This phenomenon -- colony collapse disorder -- began last summer, resulting in the loss of over a quarter of American beekeepers’ 2.4 million colonies. 

Sources:

1. Berger, Kevin. “Where Have All the Bees Gone? Blame People, Not Cellphones.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer/reprinted from Salon.com. July 2007. Salon Media Group. 10 August 2007


2. Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Stung: Where Have All the Bees Gone?” The New Yorker. 6 August 2007. Conde Nast Publications. 10 August 2007


3. Levy, Sharon. “The Vanishing.” On Earth magazine. Summer 2006 issue. Natural Resources Defense Council. 3 August 2007.


 
 
 
 

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