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Newest Ingredient in US Honey: Nuclear Fallout

Scientists say we shouldn't be worried about radioactive traces from bomb tests in '50s and '60s,
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 23, 2021 12:50 PM CDT

(Newser) – Some cesium with your chamomile tea? If you use honey, there's a distinct possibility you may have ingested the radioactive version of the element, thanks to nuclear fallout from decades-ago bomb tests that's showing up in US honey, per Science. In research published last month in Nature Communications, scientists took samples of locally produced raw honey from the eastern US, all the way from Maine to Florida, and tested it for radiocesium. The radioactive material was ejected into the upper atmosphere from nuclear bombs tested in the 1950s and '60s—in Nevada, New Mexico, and the Marshall Islands, among other places—then swept across the world by wind, before drifting back to Earth as microscopic pieces. Of the 122 samples collected, 68 of them were found to have more than 0.03 becquerels per kilogram of radiocesium, with one sample in Florida coming in at 19.1 becquerels per kilogram. Samples with the highest levels seemed to come from the Southeast.

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Even though the nuclear tests decades ago took place out west, wind and rain patterns brought the fallout to the East Coast. Popular Mechanics notes that levels in Southeast may be particularly high because there isn't as much potassium there for plants to suck up as in other regions, leading them to grab radiocesium instead, which has similar properties. So how concerned should honey lovers be about this development? Not very, the FDA says, as 1200 becquerels per kilogram would be the level where safety concerns would emerge. "I eat more honey now than I did before I started the project—and I have kids, I feed them honey," study co-author James Kaste tells Science. Still, a University of Utah geologist notes it's still important to track how nuclear fallout circulates so we can keep tabs on the health of agriculture and ecosystems, and to see if radioactive elements may be harmful to other species, like bees. "We need to pay attention to these things," says Thure Cerling. (Read more strange stuff stories.)

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