German airports use bees to monitor air quality

German airports -- including Düsseldorf International Airport -- have come up with an interesting way to monitor their air quality: using bees.

Officials let 200,000 bees fly around the airports, and then tested their honey for toxins. At Düsseldorf so far, the honey has tested so clean that it's being bottled and given as gifts under the name "Düsseldorf Natural." At least it's a better gift name than "Düsseldorf Toxin Tester."

From the New York Times:

"Air quality at and around the airport is excellent," said Peter Nengelken, [Düsseldorf] airport's community liaison. The first batch of this year's harvested honey from some 200,000 bees was tested in early June, he said, and indicated that toxins were far below official limits, consistent with results since 2006 when the airport began working with bees.

Beekeepers from the local neighborhood club keep the bees.

Analysts say before a definitive conclusion can be made about the air quality of the airports, a larger data sampling is needed.

Could bees be used in other places as "biodetectives?"

The New York Times reports:

Assessing environmental health using bees as "terrestrial bioindicators" is a fairly new undertaking, said Jamie Ellis, assistant professor of entomology at the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, University of Florida in Gainesville. "We all believe it can be done, but translating the results into real-world solutions or answers may be a little premature." Still, similar work with insects to gauge water quality has long been successful.

In more weird and unusual bee news, have you heard about the study that says cell phones could be killing off the buzz-y creatures?

About the author

Daryl Paranada is the associate web producer for Marketplace overseeing all daily website content and production, as well as producing multimedia features -- including the popular economic explainer series Whiteboard -- and special projects. Follow him on Twitter @darylparanada.

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