Is My Honey Contaminated?

Ask the Expert!

Is My Honey Contaminated?

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A Backyard Beekeeping reader asks:

Is there an established SAFE level of radionuclides (such as C 137) than can be in honey? C = cesium.

I bought honey that is likely contaminated with radioactive contaminants. Not sure what to do. It was harvested within 160 miles from Chernobyl and being sold here in U.S.

Clint Dalrymple replies:

Though we aren’t finding anywhere that states actual “safe” levels, radioactive cesium has a half-life of 30 years, which means by now, about half of the cesium released during the Chernobyl meltdown would still be in the environment. Cesium is very soluble and is often confused with potassium within the body. So the way that cesium transmits from the ground to flowers, then nectar, then the bees, then into honey would emulate the same way that potassium does. The biological half-life (how long it stays in the body) is 70 days, which means it would take about 140 days for any radioactive cesium that you eat to be fully flushed out of the body through the kidneys. Symptoms of cesium poisoning would emulate those of any other type of radiation poisoning, including cancers, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, coma, and even death. Fatal levels have been determined within certain animals, such as a 1961 study where mice dosed with 21.5 μCi/g had a 50% fatality within 30 days (implying an LD50 of 245 µg/kg). A similar experiment in 1972 showed that when dogs are subjected to a whole-body burden of 3800 μCi/kg (140 MBq/kg, or approximately 44 μg/kg) of cesium-137 (and 950 to 1400 rads), they die within 33 days, while animals with half of that burden all survived for a year. Though all of these facts don’t give you the specific answer you were looking for, hopefully, it will help you determine whether to eat that honey or just keep it as a souvenir.

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