honey bees, colony collapse disorder, cellular phone towers, non-ionizing radiation, radiofrequency, microwave, Telecommunications Act of 1996, University of Koblenz, Sainuddeen Pattazhy

Can a Honey Bee be a Canary?

Can a Honey Bee be a Canary?

Coal mining is a dangerous occupation. Underground mining hazards include suffocation from inadequate ventilation, gas poisoning, roof collapse, and explosions. Before the advent of electronic warning systems miners would take a canary with them as they descended into the mine. This is because canaries are particularly sensitive to the presence of poisonous gasses such as methane and carbon monoxide. As long as the canary was singing the miners knew that the air was safe to breathe. If the canary stopped singing, however, the miners knew that they must exit the mine immediately.

In 2007 I wrote a series of four articles on what has been termed “the world’s largest experiment”. In them I reviewed the results of studies showing the adverse effects on health of non-ionizing radiation in the radiofrequency and microwave (RF/MW) frequencies. My concluding statement was, “Non-ionizing radiation is a real and present danger, and the level of individual exposure to RF/MW radiation is increasing rapidly. Shielding devices are available, and while they may prove to be imperfect, they provide the best protection available at this time. Select one and use it consistently. Do what you can to avoid becoming one of the casualties of the world’s largest experiment.”

Levels of RF/MW radiation have continued to increase unabated. Satellite broadcasting has increased, cellular telephones have become portable computers uploading and downloading data as well as carrying audible conversations, and the use of radiofrequency identification systems for inventory in stores has accelerated. Cellular networks seek to obtain a competitive edge by providing the largest coverage area possible.

The rapid expanse of cellular communication was aided in the United States by the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 704 a, subsection D states, “State or Local Governments May Not Regulate Wireless Facilities on the Basis of Environmental Effects of Radio Frequency Emissions if the Applicant Demonstrates Compliance with FCC Regulations”.

The rule was put in place to eliminate debate concerning health issues when a permit for placement of a cell phone tower was requested at the local level. Congress obviously believed that microwave radiation exposure was harmless and that individuals expressing concern about the adverse effects of microwave radiation on the human body were “kooks” standing in the way of progress. (Bear in mind that the same government that prohibits discussion of the effects of cell phones on the human body requires that cell phones and other electronic devices be turned off during the take-off and landing of commercial aircraft so that their frequencies do not interfere with the proper functioning of instruments in the cockpit.)

Over the past 3 ½ years there has been a dramatic decline in the honey bee population in the United States and around the world. This is a serious phenomenon, since at least thirty percent of food crops require cross-pollination facilitated by honey bees to produce fruit.

Honey bee losses began being reported in October 2006. It was initially hoped that this was an isolated phenomenon due to weather or an unknown, but self-limiting, disease process. As losses continued to mount, however, a new term was coined – colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Colony collapse disorder is a phenomenon that is new to bee-keeping. The disorder is characterized by empty hives, not hives filled with dead bees. This is significant because if the bees were dying from a parasitic or viral infection one would expect many of them to die in the hive. In CCD the worker bees appear to have left the hive in search of honey and have failed to return.

Historically, occasional bees would fail to return to the hive, but in CCD all of the worker bees fail to return, resulting in the death of the unsupported queen and immature bees that were left behind.

Many theories have been advanced to explain the appearance of CCD. Some of these include infection of the bees by parasites, mites or other pathogens, poor nutrition, global warming (climate change), and high stress levels among adult bees. The last theory, while creative, is patently ridiculous. Those proposing the “high stress” theory argue that the expansion of agriculture has created larger and more numerous fields that have forced the bees to overwork. While we humans may be guilty of placing unreasonable demands upon ourselves, I find it hard to believe that honey bees are surveying the size and number of fields and determining that they have to work overtime to complete the pollination task at hand.

There is a mechanism that explains the character and timing of colony collapse disorder. It is the rise of radiofrequency/microwave radiation levels in recent years. Honey bees rely upon information they receive from the earth’s electromagnetic field to orient themselves and locate their hive once they have finished their task of collecting nectar for honey production. The energy levels produced by cellular networks are 1010 (10 followed by 10 zeros) times stronger than that of the earth’s electromagnetic field. When a hive is located in operational proximity to a cell phone tower (meaning that cellular phone reception is present at the site) the microwave frequencies generated by the tower overpower the earth’s electromagnetic field. This disables the bees GPS system and leaves them wandering aimlessly in search of their home base.

This mechanism has been tested and found to be true. One of the first studies looking at the effect of non-ionizing radiation on honey bees was conducted by University of Koblenz in Landau, Germany. In 2006 they reported their findings that placing the base unit for a portable phone (the type commonly used in homes rather than a cell phone) in the hive prevented worker bees from returning to the hive.

The Koblenz study was met with skepticism. The headline of an April 2007 article at Der Spiegel Online reads “Debunking a New Myth – Mobile Phones and Honey Bees”. Nothing in the body of the article disproved the theory; in fact, sources were quoted as saying the association was worthy of consideration and required more study.

More study has been done. One study was done by Sainuddeen Pattazhy, a researcher and dean in the department of zoology at SN College, Punalur, Kerala, India. When Pattazhy and his colleagues placed mobile phones in proximity to beehives the hives collapsed completely within 5 to 10 days due to the failure of worker bees to return. Pattazhy explained the phenomenon in part by the phone’s interference with the bees’ navigation system, but he also noted that radiation exposure damages the bees’ nervous system resulting in a loss of the ability to fly.

Could the collapse of honey bee colonies be the equivalent of the canary in a coal mine that has stopped singing? I believe this question should be taken seriously. In fact, a canary may well stop singing due to exposure to frequencies in the 900 – 1800 MHz range emitted by cellular towers. Professor Pattazhy has found that radiation from phone towers threatens the existence of sparrows and other small birds living in their vicinity.

If you have not read my 2007 articles I urge you to do so. They are available in the “Other Topics” section of the library. If you are not using a personal protective device and a device to counter emissions from your cell phone I implore you to do so. Unfortunately, those measures may not be enough to save the human race. As Albert Einstein once observed, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

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